Engineering researchers awarded federal grant to advance solar energy management

Engineering researchers awarded $4.6 million grant to advance solar energy management
Monday, February 24, 2020

Sukumar Kamalasadan, Duke Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is one of the principal investigators for a federally funded project to advance solar energy’s role in strengthening the resilience of the U.S. electricity grid.

Kamalasadan and a research team received a $4.6 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office to develop an electricity grid management tool that detects cyber and physical threats and forms dynamic clusters to optimally manage photovoltaics and energy storage.

“The tool we are developing identifies clusters of energy sources, especially the solar farms in the power distribution system, and assigns a single controller that manages these clusters, so they work together to support the electric grid,” said Kamalasadan. “By coordinating the behavior of energy sources at different scales, from residential solar to utility systems, this project will help manage and protect the power grid during normal and abnormal conditions. The team will also develop a control architecture that detects and analyzes possible cyber and physical threats to the system.”

The project scope of the funding is three years, with the total grant amount including a Department of Energy share of $3,699,000 and a cost share of $900, 000. UNC Charlotte researchers are working in collaboration with faculty at Clemson University, Florida International University and New Mexico State University, along with Argonne National Lab, Idaho National Lab, OPAL RT Technologies and Duke Energy.

Duke Energy will allow UNC Charlotte researchers access to real-time data from the grid. The project will benefit Duke by helping grid operators better incorporate renewable energy into grid needs, maintain reliability and respond to events like cyber attacks.

“As part of our Road Ahead, Duke Energy continues to expand its fleet of renewable energy resources in order to provide our customers with cleaner energy,” said Sherif Abdelrazek, lead engineer at Duke Energy. “As our grid witnesses this evolution, it is imperative that we enable ourselves to optimally control and dispatch these new facilities. This project has very high value to Duke Energy’s mission.”

Duke Energy and UNC Charlotte have worked together for years on research programs through UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC).

“This is one more example of EPIC's strategic partnerships with Duke Energy, the state of North Carolina and the federal government to bring a strong focus of resiliency to grid modernization,” said EPIC Director Mike Mazzola.

Kamalasadan’s project, “Optimal Reconfiguration and Resilient Control Framework for Real-Time Photovoltaic Dispatch to Manage Critical Infrastructure,” was one of 10 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy; the projects represent $36 million in research funding that is part of the Advanced Systems Integration for Solar Technologies (ASSIST): Situational Awareness and Resilient Solutions for Critical Infrastructure effort.

Photo: Sukumar Kamalasadan, back row, third, left, with members of the Department of Energy project team Ph.D. student Tarik Chowdhury; Sherif Abdelrazek from Duke Energy; Ph.D. student Arun Suresh, Krishna Murari, a postdoctoral fellow; and Ph.D. student Aravind Ingalalli. Front row are EPIC business officer Robin Moose, senior research administrator Wendy Meier and contracts manager Lori Brown. Not pictured, Ph.D. student Shyamal Patel.