Andrew Bolman with adviser P. T. Krein

Distributed generation research addresses technological, environmental and economic issues that power systems will face in the future. It integrates smaller generation sources throughout the main electrical grid that provide local facilities better electrical reliability and a higher quality of power. Small generators are placed close to the load in order to decrease losses from miles of existing transmission lines and allow the use of both electricity created for power and waste heat that is possibly produced for steam or hot water. This co-generation is a trait shared by fuel cells, micro-turbines, and ultra-low emission internal combustion engines. The use of low-emission sources for combined heat processes as well as the inclusion of alternative energy sources will result in lower emissions and a more environmentally friendly generating network.

Distributed energy sources require intelligent and autonomous controls to take advantage of their full potential. These controls detect anomalies in the grid and disconnect from the main grid, “islanding” themselves and providing more reliable and higher-quality power. The resulting “micro-grid” then seamlessly reconnects when the grid has stabilized. This decreases the possibility of total failure on the main grid. Wind and solar energy are popular but are intermittent energy sources and require controls to ensure they are operating with maximum efficiency. Solving these issues will lead to a power system that addresses increasing fuel costs, an aging infrastructure, energy security and the increase in loads that require high power quality.

Currently, this research has led to working with the Army Corps of Engineers Engineering and Research Development Center – Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign. Emerging fuel cell technologies as well as deployable and scalable micro-grids have been the focus of work both with the Army and the University. The goal is to increase energy security around the world and decrease dependency on fossil fuels. The micro-grid concepts being developed and tested apply not only to deployable military units but the management of energy in large populated areas, as well as locations devastated by a natural disaster.

This work is supported by the Grainger Center for Electric Machinery and Electromechanics and by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory.