UW-Milwaukee (UWM) has joined a federally funded partnership of universities and companies working to make the U.S. electrical grid more reliable, greener and less expensive.
The university on Thursday announced its membership in a National Science Foundation-backed research center called “Grid-connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems,” or GRAPES. The center partners with industry to develop new technologies for storing, controlling and distributing energy that are compatible with the existing electrical grid, can ward off cybersecurity threats and could lower energy bills.
UWM’s contribution to the center is its expertise in microgrids, which integrate energy from multiple, smaller sources, including renewables. They can act as freestanding power systems, independent of the national grid, for a limited area such as a neighborhood or factory, or they can connect to the national grid, supplying additional power. While interest in microgrids started with the military, which has an interest in powering bases in isolated areas, it has grown as the costs of solar power and energy storage come down, said Adel Nasiri, associate dean for research and UWM professor of electrical engineering.
Also, he said, “the population is not growing, so there is not a lot of interest in building huge power plants anymore.” Microgrids provide a means for moderate expansion of the power supply.
UWM faculty members are working with industry to commercialize microgrid technology and gain entry into a market that is projected to generate $1.6 billion in revenue in the next few years.
“By working with business and exchanging ideas, we each have a clearer line of sight between the research labs and consumer,” said Brett Peters, dean of UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science. “With that, we can solve today’s tough challenges efficiently.”
One of the industry partners in GRAPES is power management company Eaton, which provides solutions to manage electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power efficiently, reliably, safely and sustainably.
“It’s our business to manage and modernize grids,” said Igor Stamenkovic, global technology director at Eaton. “We rely on academic partners to continue to expand the boundaries of our own knowledge and understanding so we can be on the forefront of designing, building and maintaining secure and cost effective grids.”
GRAPES is an NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) launched by the University of Arkansas and the University of South Carolina in 2010.
This is the second I/UCRC in which UWM is a partner. In 2010, UWM and Marquette University became the academic partners in an I/UCRC in Milwaukee that focuses on development of freshwater technologies. That center is headed by Junhong Chen, a UWM distinguished professor of mechanical engineering.
The NSF funds the administration of 69 I/UCRCs in the United States. Academic researchers join with governmental agencies and private companies, whose membership pays for the cost of research in a shared intellectual property arrangement.
GRAPES research has resulted in several spinoff companies in Arkansas since its inception.
UWM’s membership will help create even more commercial products and startups, according to Nasiri. The center currently has 16 industry members, including Midwestern-based companies such as Eaton, S&C Electric, American Transmission Company, G&W Electric, We Energies and DRS Technologies.