UConn Awarded $4.5M DOE Grant to Benefit Grid Reliability for Transmission and Distribution Systems – UConn Today

A project led by the University of Connecticut will help power grid operators across the country revolutionize the way renewable energy sources are integrated into the power grid.

On March 19, the Department of Energy awarded senior principal investigator, associate director of the Eversource Energy Center and assistant professor of electrical engineering, Zongjie Wang, the award a grant of 4.5 million dollars ($3,340,168 DOE and $1,127,191 in cost shared by the awardee) to carry out this innovative initiative, which focuses on developing a new “TRANSFORMATIVE” tool that will achieve significant improvements in the efficiency, reliability and resilience of the electric grid to recover from interruptions , such as severe weather events.

Zongjie Wang
Zongjie Wang, assistant professor of electrical engineering and associate director of the Eversource Energy Center, is the lead principal investigator on a project that will improve the efficiency of the electric grid. (Chris LaRosa/UConn Photo)

“In the United States, the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy sources to power the electrical grid continues to increase,” says Wang. “At the same time, more electricity customers are installing solar and battery energy storage systems in the roofs. “The accelerated integration of these resources can present complex challenges, but also provide opportunities that TRANSFORMATIVE will exploit for both the management and operation of the electric grid.”

The grant is among 11 projects that will receive $44 million in funding for tools to advance a clean, reliable electric grid powered by wind and solar energy. It also supports opportunities to optimize clean energy interconnection to the grid.

The core of the project

An electrical grid consists of a transmission and distribution (T&D) system. Traditionally, the United States power grid operates through the transmission system level, where large power plants (such as natural gas and coal) operate to meet the energy needs of all consumers. In the current structure, grid operations only have visibility to the distribution system boundary with the local electric utility.

TRANSFORMATIVE, an acronym that stands for “Transmission and Distribution Systems with Flexible and Optimal Coordination: Resilience, Modeling and Technologies for a Variable Renewable Energy Source and Distributed Energy Resources: Integrated Adaptive Energy Network”, shows a strong and diverse collaboration between the national research. and development experts. This team includes experts from the University of Utah, South Dakota State University, Rochester Institute of Technology and Raytheon Technologies Research Center, along with strategic partnerships with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Southwest Power Pool and Resource Innovations (former name Nexant). Ali Bazzi, associate professor of electrical engineering at UConn, is also a co-PI on the project.

The goal of Wang's project is to develop an open source T&D coordination tool that integrates renewable energy production into existing operational software in grid operators' control centers. These centers are known as independent system operators (ISO). This innovative tool will be the first of its kind to use data visualization to display information about variable renewable energy sources and distributed energy resources in power grid control centers.

During the three-year project, the tool will be demonstrated on the operational training console of the Southwest Power Pool, which manages a power grid of more than 50 GW of capacity. The initiative is intended to conduct comprehensive simulations using real-world data from several regional grids, including five major ISOs (ISO New England, ISO New York, Southwest Power Pool, ISO California, and ISO Midcontinent) in collaboration with utilities. leaders such as American Electric Power, National Grid and Avangrid.

Collaboration is key

A diverse advisory group, including more than 15 stakeholders from government agencies, utilities and the energy sector, supports the project. Wang's extensive network, formed during her first two years at UConn and her postdoctoral studies at Cornell University and through her participation in the North American Power Symposium (NAPS), has been instrumental in forming this team . Her leadership will continue to be highlighted as she brings NAPS to UConn in 2025 as general president.

“We have a very strong team and many of us have worked together before on projects and proposals,” he says. “We span the country, but we all have a general interest and research experience in building sustainable energy and energy systems.”

The team will work together over the next 36 months to develop advanced TRANSFORMATIONAL tools and techniques that enable the effective use of energy resources in distribution systems to provide essential services at the transmission level and optimize network operation to meet specific ISO needs. . A key focus of the project is not only technological advances, but also ensuring that these innovations generate tangible impacts in the energy sector. To this end, the team is launching a robust commercialization plan designed to facilitate rapid and widespread adoption of the TRANSFORMATIVE tool across ISO control centers in the United States. With an ambitious and aggressive strategy, the team is committed to integrating these solutions into grid operations within two years of the project, marking an important step forward in improving grid reliability and efficiency on a national scale.

"Our goal is to create a smarter, more adaptable energy grid that can handle the growing amount of renewable energy being generated, while ensuring reliability and resilience in the face of challenges," says Wang. "This work is critical to addressing the complexities to integrate renewable energy sources into the existing grid".

TRANSFORMER project mapTRANSFORMER project map
The TRANSFORMATIVE project has a national consortium of academic partners, national laboratories, independent system operators and utilities.

The OPTIMA (Operation and Planning Tools for Inverter-Based Resource Availability and Management Tools for Future Energy Systems) grant from DOE's Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) is one of the most competitive funding opportunities published , with thousands of first-round applicants. TRANSFORMATIVE is among six recipients of the award grant under the thematic area Managing variability in network operations.

Pamir Alpay, vice president of research, innovation and entrepreneurship, praises Wang's contributions and focuses on the transformative potential of his research.

"Dr. Wang's innovative approaches to developing T&D coordination tools are setting new standards in the field," he says. "His work significantly improves our understanding of how to efficiently integrate distributed energy resources, reinforcing UConn's reputation as a center for "cutting-edge energy research. This project not only advances our academic prowess but also promises substantial benefits for our community and the global drive toward sustainable energy solutions."

Preparing for the Transformative Project

Wang, who joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in fall 2021, began writing this proposal during his second year at UConn. As one of three women in the department, and one of only two women of color in the department, Wang's accomplishments underscore her role as a trailblazer for women in engineering, particularly in the specialized areas of network optimization and resiliency. .

Several CoE faculty recognized her efforts as a voice for inclusion in research, including Kazem Kazerounian, professor and dean of the College of Engineering; Anne D'Alleva, provost and vice president for academic affairs; and Emmanouil “Manos” Anagnostou, board distinguished professor and chair of environmental engineering at Eversource Energy, who recently promoted Wang to associate director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and industry workforce development.

"Dr. Wang's enthusiasm and energy in supporting and engaging our underrepresented students in their research efforts, and his strong commitment to workforce training will be critical to the growth and success of our center in DEI and the workforce development,” says Anagnostou. He is also UConn CoE Interim Associate Dean for Research and Industrial Partnerships.

"Being a woman in the field of electrical engineering, especially in power systems, a discipline in which women are significantly underrepresented, my background and achievements have additional meaning," says Wang. "My presence and success symbolize a step forward in addressing gender imbalances and serve as an inspiration and role model for aspiring female engineers.”

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