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Vanderbilt School of Engineering, partners awarded $3.5 million from ARPA-E for transformational energy technology

by | Nov. 25, 2015, 9:24 AM | Want more research news? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter »

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A new $3.5 million award from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy will support Vanderbilt University School of Engineering researchers’ efforts to create software that can control the Smart Grid – a decentralized power system that is more efficient, sustainable and reliable than America’s current electrical power delivery.

Gabor Karsai (Vanderbilt University)

“The system we have now is power coming from the power company, flowing down to your neighborhood and into your home. That’s it,” said Gabor Karsai, associate director of Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems and lead researcher on the grant. “In the future, we will have local power generation – solar panels on your home, a small generator in your neighborhood – and you need this software infrastructure to control the whole system, the individual substations and delivery to customers.”

Under the collaborative agreement, Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems is partnering with Professor Anurag Srivastava at Washington State University and Professor Srdjan Lukic at North Carolina State University, both nationally recognized experts in power systems.

Vanderbilt received this competitive award from ARPA-E’s OPEN 2015 program, a call to scientists and engineers for transformational technologies outside the scope of ARPA-E’s existing focused programs. ARPA-E funds technologies that display technical promise and commercial impact but are too early for private-sector investment.

Karsai compares the coming shift in power delivery to the emergence of smartphones compared to first-generation cellular phones that only made calls and stored phone numbers and a simple calendar. With power coming from multiple sources, the Smart Grid requires a complex, open-source software platform that designers can build upon with “apps,” specific programs to manage tasks that include monitoring where power is going and where it’s lost, disconnecting downed power lines, and switching relays and breakers to restore service in neighborhoods.

Called Resilient Information Architecture Platform for the Smart Grid (RIAPS), the platform software must allow this kind of synchronized operation with better than a one-thousandth of a second accuracy to take measurements and control power flows, he said. Fail in the latter task, and the electric grid components may burn out.

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