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Seddik Djouadi and team

Power Grids May Face Renewable Energy Difficulties

The adoption of new technology into society does not happen all at once. Take cars, for instance. Initially only a few consumers owned the Model T. Now automobiles are ubiquitous, with 95 percent of American households owning at least one. There was, however, a time when both cars and horse-drawn wagons existed on the road simultaneously, creating a series of unique challenges for drivers and pedestrians alike. 

Similar challenges occur with more recent major technological changes. With his JDRD project, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Seddik Djouadi hopes to address the challenges happening right now in renewable energy.  

“Renewable energy and the penetration of renewable energy sources into the modern grid require power converters that interface with the current devices in the power grid,” said Djouadi. “But these sources of renewable energy—like solar energy and wind turbines—are variable, meaning the power throughput is variable.”

According to Djouadi, this variability can cause instability and inconsistent performance in the power grid, which is designed to handle a steady flow of electricity. His solution is to design better controllers for the power converters that integrate renewable energy into the grid.

“It’s basically designing a switching control so if there’s a disturbance in the system it triggers a mechanism that can ensure the safe operation of the power grid,” said Djouadi. “These energy sources introduce variability in frequency and voltage and improved controllers will help maintain consistency in both these areas.”

Djouadi and his team hope the design will encourage further integration and use of renewable energy sources.

“From my perspective, this kind of control design will show people in industry that we have the capability to achieve this type of performance,” said doctoral student Yichen Zhang, who is working on Djouadi’s team. “From the industrial point of view, they may think this design will cost a lot for them—to change from their traditional controller—but the duty of our research is to let them know this can be done.”

At the conclusion of their first year, Djouadi and his team hope to have developed some successful algorithms and made advances in designing their proposed controller.