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Next-generation power grid research funded by Stanford

Four grants totaling $1.2 million will be used to bolster new ideas and projects that promise to improve energy distribution.

BY MAXINE LYM

The TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford is awarding $1.2 million to university researchers to create a greener, more efficient system for delivering electricity through "smart power grid" systems.

The four grants are the first to be awarded by the year-old center.

"To develop sustainable energy systems for the future, we asked our faculty to focus on building up Stanford's capabilities in the area of the power grid," said TomKat Center Director Stacey Bent. "Our goal is to provide seed grants to our investigators so they can initiate new projects, then run with their ideas and secure additional funding from other sources."

Sustainable grid designs could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by lowering peak energy demand, increasing conservation and using renewable resources like the wind and sun to power homes and businesses. The systems also could reduce electricity costs and provide real-time information on usage and rates to utilities and consumers.

Grant recipients include Sanjay Lall, associate professor of electrical engineering and of aeronautics and astronautics, and Dimitry Gorinevsky, consulting professor of electrical engineering. The two are conducting an analysis of smart power grid systems that includes a look at the impact of electrical vehicle charging systems and future renewable generation.

"This funding allows us to gain an understanding of the technical possibilities and design opportunities for the electrical grid of the future," Lall said. "We plan to study and optimize the tradeoffs using simulations and analytical models."

Electrical engineers Abbas El Gamal, Stephen Boyd, Ben Van Roy, Amit Narayan and Daniel O'Neill are researching and developing GridSpice, a software simulation system for modeling and analyzing a smart grid.

Frank Wolak and Mark Thurber – who run the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies – are teaming up with Boyd to investigate how to get renewable energy to the wholesale market by reducing regulatory barriers.

"Our research will develop key analytical tools to assess the economic and environmental benefits of transmission expansions to support renewable generation to regulators and policymakers," Wolak said.

Ram Rajagopal, who will join Stanford's civil and environmental engineering faculty in January, will examine how to create cost-effective use of intermittent wind energy by improving power operations.

The TomKat Center was created in 2009 with a $40 million gift made by Stanford alumni and husband-and-wife team Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor. Its goal is to harness the skills and creativity of Stanford's leading science, technology and policy experts to transform the world's energy systems for a sustainable future.

"We are grateful to Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor for their incredible generosity and vision," Bent said. "With the range and depth of our research talent at Stanford, we are off to a great start contributing to the next-generation power grid."

Maxine Lym is the communications manager for Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project.