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Impact of Renewable Energy on the Electric Power Grid

With a $1.23 million grant, researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will be creating a distributed power test bed to study how the electricity distribution grid might be affected by the widespread adoption of clean, renewable energy sources.

The two-year project, which is funded by the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research, is designed to help understand the potential effects of meeting New York state’s key alternative energy goal – by 2012, more than 25 percent of power generation through renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and fuel cells.

As people begin adopting small-scale renewable sources to power homes and businesses, problems in the utility grid could arise because these sources are likely to be connected at the local distribution level. “For example, I do not want my photovoltaic system’s inverter to go off when my neighbor’s central air conditioner comes on,” said CFES Director Nag Patibandla. “We want to understand how the distribution grid functions at a high degree of renewable resources penetration.”

Examples of sensitive loads include high-power computer systems, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in traffic lights, and wastewater treatment plants. Renewable energy sources are themselves inherently sensitive because they have inverters that convert direct current to alternating current, Patibandla said.

Researchers at the CFES will be partnering with Sensitron Semiconductor, Inverters Unlimited, and Advanced Energy Conversion. The project also will examine policy aspects of renewable resources penetration in partnership with the Pace Energy Project, part of Pace Law School’s Center for Environmental Legal Studies.

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