Renewable Energy’s Impact on the Electric Power Grid

In a two-year project funded by the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR), researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) will undertake a study on how the widespread adoption of clean, renewable energy sources will affect the electricity distribution grid.

Designed to help understand the potential effects of meeting New York state’s key alternative energy goal of more than 25 percent of power generation through renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and fuel cells by 2012, RPI researchers will be creating a distributed power test-bed using the $1.23 million grant. “Global energy security is the greatest challenge of our time,” Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson said at the energy forum where she and members of the research team were presented with the $1.23 million award by NYSTAR Executive Director Michael J. Relyea. The forum was hosted by Rensselaer’s Center for Future Energy Systems (CFES). “This project — which seeks to enhance our understanding of the effect of adding an increasing number of small-scale renewable electricity generating sources to the utility grid — further demonstrates the leadership role Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and New York state are taking to secure our global energy future,” Jackson added. The new project will expand the current efforts in technology commercialization at CFES into the area of distributed power generation, CFES Director Nag Patibandla said, or the use of small-scale generators located close to the power load being served. Specifically, the researchers will examine the stability and dynamic behavior of the electricity grid, the feasibility of installing distributed energy to counter-balance natural intermittency, and grid stability and power quality. Patibandla led New York’s Distributed Generation program for five years before joining Rensselaer. For the new project, he and his colleagues plan to build a test system on the Rensselaer campus where they can attach a number of simulated renewable energy sources along with equipment that is susceptible to fluctuations in power output. Examples of sensitive loads include high-power computer systems, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in traffic lights, and wastewater treatment plants. Renewable energy sources are themselves inherently sensitive because they have inverters that convert direct current to alternating current, Patibandla said. Researchers at the CFES will be partnering with Sensitron Semiconductor (Deer Park, NY); Inverters Unlimited Inc. (Albany, NY); and Advanced Energy Conversion (Malta, NY) The project will also examine policy aspects of renewable resources penetration in partnership with the Pace Energy Project, part of Pace Law School’s Center for Environmental Legal Studies. “With growing concern over the security of our energy supply and its consequences for the global climate, energy is emerging as one of the defining public policy issue of our generation,” said Pace Law School Dean Stephen Friedman. “Pace is pleased to join with Rensselaer on this important initiative to define the technological, economic, and regulatory framework for supporting renewable energy and clean distributed generation as an ever-increasing part of our future energy mix.” The CFES, in partnership with Cornell University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Clarkson University, seeks to meet the energy challenges of the 21st century by focusing on innovation in and commercialization of energy conservation and renewable energy systems.
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