Feeding the Microgrid

The University of Bridgeport’s renewable energy research laboratory is helping researchers find new ways for the nation to utilize more renewable energy resources.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s report on Trends in Renewable Energy Consumption and Electricity 2009, only eight percent of the nation’s 94.628 quadrillion Btu energy supply comes from renewable energy sources, primarily biomass (51 percent), followed by hydroelectric (34 percent), with ten percent or less produced by wind, geothermal, or solar sources.

“It is urgent to train a new generation of engineers who are able to harvest, convert, and store sustainable energy as well as to integrate this energy into the power grid.” – Zhang

With a recent government goal of having 80 percent of America’s electricity come from clean energy sources, Linfeng Zhang, Ph.D., is driven to conduct research and develop courses for the next generation of electrical engineers. “It is urgent to train a new generation of engineers who are able to harvest, convert, and store sustainable energy as well as to integrate this energy into the power grid,” Zhang explains.

Turning his ideas into action, Zhang has established the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Bridgeport. In this lab, experimental studies can be conducted on wind electricity, solar electricity, hydrogen fuel cells, rechargeable batteries, and power electronics. In addition, a grid-tied microgrid was proposed and set up with distributed energy sources and storage. Technologies in communication, controls, parallel computing, and data acquisition are used in the power system management for an optimal power flow and enhanced reliability. Moreover, software, such as ETAP, HOMER, and SCAPES, can be used for power system analysis and the design of solar cells.

In 2008, Zhang received a UB Seed Money Grant award that funded research into fuel cells and chemical sensors. Zhang is currently midway through a large-scale project involving 64 collaborating institutions. “A Nationwide Consortium of Universities to Revitalize Electric Power Engineering Education by State-of-the-Art Laboratories” is a three-year undertaking funded by a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to the University of Minnesota.

The students at UB are involved in renewable energy research through their course work. Over the past few years, Zhang has developed six graduate-level electrical engineering courses that focus on sustainable energy: Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Energy lab, Fuel Cells, Solar Energy and Solar Cells, and Hybrid Vehicles. Design, testing, data collection and analysis are all critical components to the research that has the potential to shape and define industry-adaptable practices.

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