UC Berkeley awarded $4 million ARPA-E grant for smart grid research

December 12, 2012
By: Sarah Yang

The Department of Energy has awarded $4 million over three years to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, to develop new ways to monitor the stability of electric power grids. 

A power plant.
ARPA-E has awarded $4 million to researchers at UC Berkeley to develop new ways to monitor the stability of power grids.

The award goes to the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE) at UC Berkeley as part of the i4Energy research collaboration that partners CIEE with the UC Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“Today’s electric power grid, with its many interdependent parts, is surprisingly robust, but extreme events like Hurricane Sandy also remind us of the potential for large-scale failure,” said Alexandra von Meier, co-director of the electric grid research program at CIEE and the technical lead for the project.

The project seeks to explore a new way of monitoring a local distribution system by measuring the twists and turns of power as it moves through the electrical grid.

“The amount of twist — the change in phase angle — provides information about the direction and stability of power flow,” said von Meier. “We are developing a new instrument, called a micro-synchrophasor, to measure this twist and provide deep insight into the system’s operating state.”

The new device will be built by project partner Power Standards Laboratory of Alameda, Calif. Carl Blumstein, director of CIEE, is the project’s principal investigator. 

The researchers said the project has the potential to dramatically improve economic and energy security, and to provide long-term insurance against major societal disruptions from large-scale power outages by improving local management of energy resources and supporting the increased deployment of renewable generation.

The UC Berkeley project is among 66 awards getting $130 million in funding from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) “OPEN 2012″ program. The awards, recently announced by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, support breakthrough technologies that have the potential to produce game-changing breakthroughs in energy technology and form the foundation for entirely new industries.

Chu said the selected projects represent “the true mission of ARPA-E: swinging for the fences and trying to hit home runs to support development of the most innovative technologies and change what’s possible for America’s energy future.”