Enabling More Renewable Power

Filed in Why Graduate School? by on February 7, 2016 0 Comments

More and more people are installing power generation – solar, wind, emergency generators, micro-turbines and fuel cells. These are all examples of “distributed generation” and many of them are renewable. While this is a positive trend for sustainability and helps with resiliency, it can be a challenge to the safe and reliable operation of the power delivery system.

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iStock_000062317890_LargeThe utility power delivery system was built many years ago. The original concept was that large generating stations produce electricity (a flow of electrons). They step up the voltage and feed this electricity to a very high voltage transmission grid. This grid efficiently connects the generating stations to distant substations where the voltage is stepped down to the distribution system. The distribution wires and transformers then locally deliver the electric power to everywhere is will be used – homes, businesses and industries.

When people add equipment to generate electricity where they use it, some might flow back into the delivery system. For the utility, this means that protective fuses and circuit breakers may not operate properly to interrupt power flow when there’s a short circuit from things like downed wires. Today’s Protection & Control Engineers consider each installation of distributed generation and make adjustments to maintain safety and reliability. As more and more people install electric generation, their job is getting more and more challenging.


Here at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), the power utility industry asked us to create graduate courses in Protection and Controls to teach these analytical capabilities to their Power Engineers. We did this over 5 years ago and the courses have been quite popular. Now that the trend to distributed and renewable power is accelerating, the challenge is becoming greater. Multiple sources of generation in local areas could interact! In response, WPI has developed a new course focused to provide the knowledge, skills and abilities to deal with this growing complexity. If you’re interested in the details, just let me know.

I’m pleased that WPI playing a part in enabling more renewable power!

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