FSU leads charge to modernize America's power grid


TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-America's electric power grid is long overdue for an overhaul. Now, Florida State University will play a major role in identifying ways to upgrade and modernize Florida's and the nation's power grid thanks to a $5 million federal grant.

FSU will lead a consortium of research institutions funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that will include other Florida universities, public utilities and industries in a multifaceted effort to understand, improve, safeguard and modernize the state's extensive electric power grid.

"There has been little improvement in the nation's electric delivery system for several decades," said Steinar Dale, director of FSU's Center for Advanced Power Systems (CAPS), which will spearhead the project. "With the innumerable changes in technology and the advent of new superconducting materials, electricity can and should be moved more reliably and efficiently for the benefit of all electric consumers."

Money for the research project is contained in a $388 billion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress to fund most federal agencies in 2005. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law Wednesday.

Americans don't have to look far back to see glaring examples of the problems facing the nation's electric power grid. There was the huge August 2003 outage that left 50 million people across eight states in the Northeast and Canada, including all of New York City, without power for a day. In 2000 and 2001 Californians were plagued by almost continuous rolling blackouts throughout the state.

The FSU-led project will identify how the system can be made more reliable and less vulnerable to events that could lead to cascading power outages, including exploitation by terrorists. The largest university-based, real-time digital simulator will model proposed modifications in the grid to help engineers understand the effect of changes without having to experiment on the grid itself. The project also will include research on superconducting technologies to facilitate more efficient transmission of energy than is currently capable with aluminum and copper.

CAPS, which is already involved in extensive research and development to help build the first all-electric warship for the U.S. Navy, will be assisted in the project by the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and other state universities.

"CAPS' work with the Navy to understand how to move electric power around a ship also applies to how power is moved to meet the needs of people in a metropolitan area, state or region," Dale said. "We think this relationship with the Navy and now the Department of Energy will make FSU a major contributor in solving many of our citizens' energy problems."

The lack of investment in the country's power grid has led to a decline in the United States' manufacturing capabilities and closure of many power engineering educational programs.

"FSU is now one of the nation's pre-eminent centers for power engineering and advanced power systems simulation," Dale said. "This new collaboration with the DOE will help us deal with modernizing a system that is critical to all of our lives. Without it, we could literally be back in the Dark Ages."

Other FSU projects funded by the federal government for 2005 include:

  • Climate prediction, Professor James O'Brien, department of meteorology, $3.6 million from the Department of Agriculture;
  • Carbon nanotubes, Professor Ben Wang, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, $2.5 million from the Army Research Lab;
  • Expert performance, Professor Laura Hassler, Learning Systems Institute, $1 million from the Office of Naval Research;
  • Multiuniversity reading initiative, Hassler, LSI, $1 million from the Department of Education;
  • Distance learning in Eastern Europe, Professor and President Emeritus Talbot D'Alemberte, College of Law, $775,000 from the Agency for International Development;
  • Juvenile justice education, Dean and Professor Thomas Blomberg, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, $500,000 from the Department of Justice;
  • Digitizing library materials, chairman of the Board of Directors Thomas Spulak, Pepper Institute on Aging, $500,000 from the Department of Education.

    Source: Eurekalert & others

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