A consortium of universities, research laboratories and industry partners will take a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to modernize the state’s century-old electrical grid.
Announced by lawmakers on Friday, the grant will fund a SMART Grid Center at the University of New Mexico — it’s not a physical building, but a “novel, interdisciplinary research center that will address pressing design, operational, data, and security challenges of next-generation electric power management,” said William Michener, principal investigator for the award. Michener is also the state director of New Mexico’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, program, which is directed at jurisdictions traditionally underfunded in research grants.
The SMART Grid Center — which stands for Sustainable, Modular, Adaptive, Resilient and Transactive — has four main research objectives: improving the resilience and cybersecurity of the grid, utilizing machine-learning algorithms to optimize power production and building in simulations and testbed systems to validate performance and sustainability. The fourth and most comprehensive objective will be to adapt the existing electrical infrastructure to accept wind, solar and other new forms of energy, without a noticeable decrease in supply.
“We’re trying to get the current power grid to do something it was not designed to do,” Mammoli said. “We want to make it so that it is more easily able to integrate emerging forms of energy sources, as well as respond to the user in new ways, making it more adaptable to human behavior and usage patterns.”
The way to do this, according to UNM’s technical co-leader on the project, Andrea Mammoli, is to transform the state’s electricity distribution feeders into interconnected microgrids — small, interconnected localized groupings of electricity generation — often enhanced by solar panels and turbines, and connected to a traditional grid.
The center will also support workforce growth in the state that’s historically underproduced graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. K-12 and community outreach will be a significant part of meeting this goal, according to UNM.
“The SMART Grid Center will link leading colleges and universities with our world-class national labs to advance important research into more efficient, secure and reliable energy management,” said Sen. Tom Udall in a statement. “By bringing together researchers, students, academics and scientists throughout the state, it will also help train the next generation of STEM workers and energy sector leaders.”
A team of UNM researchers participating in the project will be diverse, with faculty from the School of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences expected to contribute. They’ll also be accompanied by their colleagues at New Mexico State University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Santa Fe Community College, Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Microgrid Systems Laboratory, in addition to industry partners like Siemens, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), the Electric Power Research Institute, Oracle and El Paso Electric.