A national effort joined by the University of Central Florida to modernize and sustain the nation’s power grid will expand thanks to a new $1 million cooperative award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative.

Zhihua Qu, chair of UCF’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, received the award as part of the DOE’s Solar Training and Education for Professionals program. The award adds to UCF’s previous DOE award for the same program, allowing UCF to expand teaching and innovation in power-system engineering.

Qu will continue leading the national, multi-partner consortium known as FEEDER, the Foundations for Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources. FEEDER brings together universities, electric utilities and energy-industry corporations to train engineers capable of managing and improving the nation’s integrated electricity-transmission grid.

FEEDER partners are upgrading and sustaining the power grid through research, training the current grid workforce, and recruiting and educating the future workforce.

“Our nation relies on a vital, robust power grid that integrates renewable energy sources to maintain basic societal and economic needs. But the current infrastructure needs to be upgraded with advanced ‘smart’ technology, and the current grid workforce needs to learn the technology,” Qu said. “It’s also critical that our nation’s engineering schools recruit students to the field to ensure an adequate supply of smart-grid engineers in the years to come.”

UCF is one of the nation’s largest producers of engineers, and its expertise in electrical engineering makes UCF an ideal leader for the project.

The FEEDER consortium launched in 2013 with an initial award of $3.2 million from the DOE that brought together eight universities, eight utilities, 11 industry partners and two national labs. The new funding opportunity will enable the consortium to grow to more than 50 partners and continue to collaborate with stakeholders to modernize and sustain the nation’s power grid. FEEDER partners are nationwide.

“We are excited to continue this national effort of reducing dependency on coal and other traditional energy sources as we increase solar and other renewables,” Qu said. “Stable and sustainable energy generation –  specifically the electrical grid –  is one of the backbones of our economy. More partners will facilitate the work that is critical to our nation.”

Researchers in FEEDER are analyzing the infrastructure inside the current grid to find ways to enhance its capacity and make it more efficient. They are also exploring ways to safely and efficiently process the amount of fluctuating energy fed into the grid from an increasing number of small, decentralized power producers, many of which generate power from renewable sources such as wind and solar farms. They are also envisioning and designing potentially new and better ways of integrating renewables.

On the education front, FEEDER universities will train and educate the nation’s current and future smart grid workforce by working together to develop and deploy updated, shared curricula, guest lectures and workforce-training activities.

FEEDER aims to attract and educate more students to become future power engineers, address research and development challenges, train existing workforce, speed up technology transfers, and realize smart grid implementation.

Research and Education in Renewable Energy Systems at UCF

UCF’s many power and energy resources provide hundreds of electrical and computer engineering students hands-on, smart-grid experience that will help them in their careers. The university also offers robust research opportunities:

  • A new Smart Grid lab will be connected to UCF power sources, such as solar arrays and an on-campus power plant. The 660-square-foot lab in the Harris Engineering Center on UCF’s main campus provides a hands-on experience using advanced technology – real-time digital simulation, hardware-in-the-loop testing, power system protection and more – for research faculty and about 220 students per year.
  • UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center, also part of the FEEDER effort, has numerous research projects underway, including a study of the impact that the nation’s increasing number of electric vehicles on the road will have on the power grid.
  • Five student research posters by 10 UCF electrical and computer engineering students were presented at the Feb. 9-11 DistribuTECH conference in Orlando. Read the UCF research abstracts here.
  • Last fall, the university announced a faculty research cluster to bring together and recruit multi-disciplinary experts to advance power-systems science. The Resilient, Intelligent and Sustainable Energy Systems (RISES) cluster, also led by Qu, will facilitate collaborative research in the deployment and integration of renewable-energy resources, and provide innovative solutions that make electricity grids self-organizing, efficient and resilient.
  • UCF is committed to green initiatives and supports the Climate Action Plan, an ambitious guide for the university to become climate neutral by 2050.

    Qu is a nationally renowned expert in distributed control and optimization of smart grids. In 2009, he was elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for his scientific contributions in electrical and computer engineering. He joined UCF’s faculty in 1990 and was named chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2011. He holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.