A team of UCF engineers and their private partners have been awarded $2 million by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to develop the next generation of grid planning and operational tools to integrate solar power into the power grid.

The team, five faculty members in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering led by Professor Zhihua Qu, will work on algorithms that improve the digital distribution of energy from the source, such as solar, to the end users.

This can be thorny problem on an energy grid, with multiple energy sources – electricity, solar, and wind, for example – feeding in. The grid then has to distribute the power across a wide area while managing consistent coverage during peak usage times and power surges.

SunShot Initiative’s Enabling Extreme Real-Time Grid Integration of Solar Energy (ENERGISE) program granted $30 million to 13 teams to explore several facets of the grid expansion. Several of the projects will demonstrate commercially ready solutions that will be available by 2020 while others are developing long-term technologies that can be easily scaled to reach across the grid and offer real-time control, meaning the customer can have constant control of power despite intermittent renewable-power integration.

UCF’s “Scalable/secure cooperative algorithms and framework for Extremely-high penetration solar integration (SolarExpert),” is one of the long-term research and development projects, and it focuses upon designing the scalable architecture and algorithms for optimizing distributed control systems. Those systems utilize autonomous controllers throughout an area, such as the power boxes located on individual homes, as opposed to completely centralized systems.

A new lab unveiled at UCF on March 2 also holds the promise of helping the next-generation of engineers address these challenges. The Siemens Digital Grid Lab features cutting-edge technology used by many private and public utilities to manage the nation’s power systems.  The lab adds to the growing list of resources students have at their disposal to become experts in the field of energy technology.

ENERGISE is one of four ongoing projects funded for $1 million or more and undertaken by the faculty members at UCF’s Resilient Intelligent and Sustainable Energy Systems (RISES) cluster. The group is committed to transformative and collaborative research to enable deployment and integration of renewable energy resources.

The UCF team includes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Duke Energy, General Electric, Siemens, OPAL-RT Technologies and the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. Most of these partners also belong to the FEEDER (Foundations for Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources) consortium, one of the three national centers on distributed technologies.

The FEEDER center, also led by UCF’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is funded by the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative under the GEARED (Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment) program.  More than 50 partners including two national labs, 22 utilities and co-ops, 12 universities and 15 industry partners are participating in the program.