DoE Awards UNC Charlotte Electrical Engineering $4.6 Million to Advance Solar Energy Management

Friday, January 24, 2020

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) has awarded $4.6 million to Electrical Engineering faculty member Dr. Sukumar Kamalasadan for the project “Optimal Reconfiguration and Resilient Control Framework for Real-Time Photovoltaic Dispatch to Manage Critical Infrastructure.” The purpose of the project is to advance solar energy’s role in strengthening the resilience of the U.S. electricity grid. The project will develop a grid management tool that detects cyber and physical threats, and forms dynamic clusters to optimally manage photovoltaics and energy storage.

The project team includes universities, national labs and industry partners. The project scope is three years, with the total grant amount including a DoE share of $3,699,000 and a cost share of $900,000. The project collaborators are:

Universities
UNC Charlotte: Dr. Sukumar Kamalasadan PI and Dr. Tao Han Co-PI
Clemson University: Prof. Sukumar Brahma PI
Florida International University: Prof. Sumit Paudyal PI
New Mexico State University: Jay Misra PI

DoE National Labs
Argonne National Lab: Rojan Bhattarai PI
Idaho National Lab: Humberto Garcia PI

Industry
OPAL RT Technologies: Sudipta Chakraborty PI

Utility
Duke Energy: Sherif Abdelrazek Point of Contact

The project is one of the 10 awarded by the DoE to advance solar energy’s role in strengthening the nation’s electricity grid. The projects represent $36-million in research that is part of the Advanced Systems Integration for Solar Technologies (ASSIST): Situational Awareness and Resilient Solutions for Critical Infrastructure funding program to improve situational awareness of solar energy systems.

“The tool we are developing identifies clusters of energy sources, especially the solar farms in the power distribution system, and assigns a single controller that manages these clusters, so they work together to support the electric grid,” said Dr. Kamalasadan, the principal investigator on the UNC Charlotte project.

“By coordinating the behavior of energy sources at different scales, from residential solar to utility systems, this project will help manage and protect the power grid during normal and abnormal conditions,” Dr. Kamalasadan said. “The team will also develop a control architecture that detects and analyzes possible cyber and physical threats to the system.”

Duke Energy will be assisting UNC Charlotte on the project, allowing access to real-time data from the grid. The project will benefit Duke by helping grid operators better incorporate renewable energy into grid needs, maintain reliability and respond to events like cyber attacks.

“As part of our Road Ahead, Duke Energy continues to expand its fleet of renewable energy resources in order to provide our customers with cleaner energy,” said Dr. Sherif Abdelrazek, Lead Engineer at Duke Energy. “As our grid witnesses this evolution, it is imperative that we enable ourselves to optimally control and dispatch these new facilities. This project has very high value to Duke Energy’s mission.”

Duke Energy and UNC Charlotte have worked together for years on research programs through the University’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC). “This is one more example of EPIC's strategic partnerships with Duke Energy, the State of North Carolina, and the Federal Government to bring a strong focus of resiliency to grid modernization,” said EPIC Director Dr. Mike Mazzola. “Dr. Kamalasadan is an EPIC faculty member who performs research in our Duke Energy Smart Grid Laboratory, a core EPIC facility. I am very encouraged that the Department of Energy has selected his proposal for award.”

The UNC Charlotte project team began work in November 2019. “We are very excited to get started,” Dr. Kamalasadan said, “and look forward to a successful completion that will provide utilities with a tool that enables them to be more sustainable, resilient, robust and energy-efficient.”

For more information, please contact Dr. Kamalasadan at skamalas@uncc.edu.

About UNC Charlotte
UNC Charlotte is North Carolina's urban research university, with 30,000 students studying in 164 degree programs on a beautiful, modern, 1,000-acre campus in one of the country’s fastest-growing regions.

About EPIC
Working in collaboration with industry, EPIC is educating an engineering workforce and advancing technological research for the global energy industry while supporting the Carolinas’ multi-state economic and energy security.

About the Solar Energy Technologies Office 
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office supports early-stage research and development to improve the affordability reliability, and performance of solar technologies on the grid. Learn more at energy.gov/solar-office