UNL's Qiao earns early career award to study next-generation power grids

Released on 02/18/2010, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., February 18th, 2010 —
Wei Qiao
Wei Qiao

Plugging additional energy from alternative sources, such as wind and solar, into the current electrical system will require a smarter, more efficient power grid.

Wei Qiao (pronounced Way Chow), a University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor of electrical engineering, is working on the technologies needed for that smarter, next-generation power system. Qiao recently received a $399,999, five-year Faculty Early Career Development Program CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation to expand his research. This is NSF's most prestigious award for outstanding pre-tenure faculty and supports their development as researchers and teacher-scholars.

Maintaining the reliability and security of the nation's dynamic and complex power network requires a balance between power generation and use. Unlike today's primary energy sources, such as coal and oil, alternative power sources like wind and solar are intermittent and harder to control.

To optimize the use of these sustainable sources, Qiao is developing computer models and optimization and control tools to help create the next generation power grid. A smarter power grid will improve the system's stability and reliability. It will help reduce the significant energy loss that occurs during transmission in the existing system. A 2008 U.S. Department of Energy report on wind power identified "significant changes in transmission systems" as one of the requirements for meeting the national goal of generating 20 percent of the nation's electricity with wind power by 2030.

Qiao also is developing methods to store excess energy for future use, which would greatly improve the power grid's energy efficiency and reduce the risk of power failures.

"My previous research was focused on the current power grid, but now I want to go further to look at the future, at the smart power grid," Qiao said. "This grant will allow me to move faster and to make a big jump from the current step to the next step."

Qiao plans to hire two graduate students to work on the project, which will give them valuable experience working on technologies for the future of electrical power engineering.

Educating the next generation of electrical power engineers is an important component of the grant. It gives Qiao the opportunity to enhance UNL's electrical power curriculum and to train more graduate and undergraduate students.

"The current curriculum is built on the traditional power system," Qiao said. "There has been a critical demand to train a new generation of professionals and educators to accommodate the fast-changing environment in the electrical power industry."

Graduate and undergraduate students also will work on electrical power research through UNL's Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences program and a partnership program with the Nebraska Public Power District and the Omaha Public Power District. Qiao also will offer opportunities for K-12 students and teachers to learn about electric power engineering and research.

"Nebraska and adjacent states are among the top states in the nation with wind energy resources," Qiao said. In the long-term, he said, outcomes of this research should have local and national economic benefits.

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