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Addressing nationwide challenges
New clean energy systems research center opens
Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2012
By Tina Hilding, College of Engineering and Architecture
Chen-Ching Liu, left, working in the lab with students. (Photo by Brian Maki, WSU Online)
PULLMAN, Wash. - With a long history and national reputation in power engineering and collaborative, interdisciplinary research, Washington State University has established the Energy Systems Innovation Center (ESIC). It will take a leading role in addressing one of the greatest technological challenges of the 21st century - demand for clean and reliable energy.
"The new Energy Systems Innovation Center provides a unique, holistic approach that is needed to address our national energy challenges,’’ said Howard Grimes, vice president for research and dean of the WSU Graduate School.
"The differentiating factor in this center is the bridging that will occur between the engineering necessary to build the smart grid and the sociology and psychology necessary to implement the smart grid to increase energy efficiency,” he said. "This is the first center to focus on how an individual or a company will interface and use the technology.’’
"Working closely with industry partners on energy issues and the smart electric power grid, we are uniquely positioned to be a leader in developing new technologies to solve these critical energy problems, which will directly impact the economy of Washington and the nation,’’ said Chen-Ching Liu, Boeing Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at WSU and a Washington State STARs research faculty member.
Liu, an internationally recognized researcher in decision support systems for power systems, is founding director of the center.
Smart grid leader
The ESIC includes a core of eight research faculty in power, energy and computer science, along with 18 faculty members in allied fields including economics, sociology, psychology and public policy.
WSU’s power engineering program is one of the leading programs in the U.S. WSU recently signed a contract to become one of just a few testing labs in the U.S. on synchrophasors and other smart grid technology and hosted the first-ever conference on the topic.
WSU researchers also work extensively with experts from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory where researchers have been advancing grid technologies and concepts for more than two decades.
WSU already is conducting extensive research in smart environments. Pullman, Wash., is one of only a handful of U.S. cities that have applied smart meters and distribution automation to the entire city.
WSU also has had a unique power research niche because of its close ties and interdisciplinary work with computer science faculty on electric grid communications.
The new center will build on this collaborative tradition to work with faculty across the university to address the social, economic and public policy challenges of electric energy systems, Liu said.
"Our energy challenges involve much more than just electric power and engineering,’’ he said. "We have to look beyond technology, so we connect with the societal elements. This is truly a unique approach.’’
The center has established strong links with leading educational institutions in Europe and Asia to promote collaborative research and educational programs as well as faculty and student exchanges. The ESIC will collaborate with researchers nationally and internationally on problems such as incorporating renewable energy into the electric power grid and providing social incentives to increase energy efficiency. Focus research areas will include building efficiency and cyber security for the smart grid.
The center will provide opportunities for workforce development in power engineering. The power industry is facing a dramatic need for engineers, with approximately half of its workforce eligible for retirement in the next five years.
In collaboration with the Washington Economic Development Commission, WSU unveiled the new ESIC during WSU’s "Innovators” presentation held last week in Seattle. The event was attended by the senior leadership from numerous private firms and utilities interested in partnering with WSU to make the Pacific Northwest a global leader in research, development and implementation of smart grids.
Avista Utilities, Alstom Grid, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Wuhan University (China) are the first group of industry/university/national laboratory partners with the ESIC through collaboration agreements.