Masood Parvania, an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah, has been awarded a three-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research to build a lab, and research and test technology for microgrids. Parvania and his team at the Utah Smart Energy Lab will develop controllers that act as the computerized brains of a microgrid and determine how to best distribute electrical power in an area. The aim is to make the controllers faster, smarter and more secure from cyber-attacks. Two days before Christmas in 2015, for example, Russian hackers remotely attacked the control centers of three Ukrainian electricity distribution companies, briefly wiping out power to more than 200,000 customers.
“Today, power grids are becoming more and more vulnerable with modernization and digitization,” Parvania says. “These microgrid controllers will be faster and more accurate in returning power back to communities. But we also want to make sure that once they work they are not affected by cyber attacks.”
The lab will consist of software and specialized computers called “real-time digital simulators” that will simulate a power system. New technologies that his team develops can be experimented on this new testbed. The laboratory also will be used to help educate the next generation of power engineers who are studying microgrids.
The university is partnering with the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, the Idaho National Lab, and the University’s Office of Technology and Venture Commercialization to commercialize any technology that Parvania’s team develops.
“We are also going to work with utilities, energy companies, and military bases to see how we can commercialize our technology for the betterment of communities,” says Parvania.