UT leads charge to smart grid with NSF-DOE award

August 17, 2011

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will be at the forefront of research, education, and technology for sustainable energy systems with a five-year, $18 million award from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

This is the first time UT Knoxville has been honored to lead an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) and the first time an ERC will address power transmission systems. An NSF ERC is historically the most prestigious award given to a university industry team. Since the program's creation in 1984, only 33 of the nation's finest universities have been given the honor to lead a total of 42 ERCs.

UT Knoxville will play a central role in President Barack Obama's goal to overhaul the nation's power grid. The president outlined a framework to take America's early-20th century power system into the 21st century through cutting-edge research. The NSF and DOE have partnered to address the nation's critical need to develop a smart grid and has called upon UT Knoxville to lead the charge.

"Our country is in a defining moment in history as it relates to the urgency to address the aging infrastructure and managing our energy needs," said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. "This award propels UT to the frontlines both domestically and internationally of smart-grid research. We have the leading experts and the sophisticated tools to develop the transformational technology that will make our power grid greener, safer, and smarter."

The new center, called CURENT (Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks), involves a consortium of academia, industry and national laboratories.

Kevin Tomsovic, head of UT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, will direct CURENT, and Yilu Liu, Governor's Chair for Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will serve as co-director.

The country's electrical grid has chronically been overstretched, manifesting itself in costly and inconvenient blackouts. Since 1982, an increase in peak demand for electricity has exceeded transmission growth by almost 25 percent, according to the DOE. As the nation's population grows, this overload is expected to worsen. CURENT seeks to solve this problem by focusing its technologies and methods to operate the power grid efficiently and reliably over long distances.

"Using wide-area synchronized measurements, large-scale computer simulations, and hardware testbeds that represent the major U.S. power grids, we will seek fundamental breakthroughs and investigate the enabling technologies needed to achieve a resilient transmission network on a continental scale," said Tomsovic.

CURENT engineers' contributions will have a positive environmental impact. The center's innovations will enable a global shift away from fossil fuels by facilitating higher levels of renewable energy resources within electric grids. To consumers, it means more green, more sustainable, and more reliable power.

The future workforce is also a focus as CURENT educates a new generation of energy leaders from diverse backgrounds with a global perspective. The educational mission concentrates on developing a broad interdisciplinary program that benefits graduate, undergraduate, and pre-college students.

CURENT will be housed in UT Knoxville's new Min Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building.

CURENT enjoys broad industry support from more than 40 companies, including electric power utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, manufacturers, consulting firms, and national laboratories such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Partner academic institutions include Northeastern University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Tuskegee University, Tsinghua (China) University, the University of Waterloo (Canada), and the National Technical University of Athens (Greece).

CURENT has the potential for continued NSF-DOE funding of $4 to $5 million per year over the next 10 years. For more information about CURENT, visit http://curent.utk.edu/.
To read the NSF's announcement, visit http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=121041&org=ENG&from=news.

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

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