WSU & Industry Partners Join Effort to Improve U.S. Power Systems

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science recently received a five-year $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to join a six-university and multi-industry consortium to conduct research in power systems for the restructured electric power industry. Improving computerized control centers and operating more secure, economic and interconnected power generation-transmission-distribution systems requires a range of expertise too broad for any single university, company or agency, say U.S. electrical power leaders.
The Power Systems Engineering Research Center is an NSF Industry University Cooperative Research Center led by Cornell University, and includes the University of California at Berkeley, Howard University, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin, and now WSU. Industrial members are spread across the United States, Canada and overseas. Overall PSerc director is Robert J. Thomas at Cornell University. WSU’s site director is Anjan Bose, Distinguished Professor in Power Engineering. Bose is an expert in assessment of the security of power networks and in simulation used in analysis and power-system operator training.
WSU is recognized for excellence in teaching and research in power systems with a history of close collaboration with the power industry in the West. Companies that support this program are Cegelec-ESCA, Bellevue; BC Hydro/Power Tech Laboratories, British Columbia; Puget Sound Energy, Bellevue; and Portland General Electric of Oregon. Others are Pacific Gas & Electric, San Francisco, Calif.; Avista/WWP, Spokane; Tacoma Public Utilities District; Chelan County PUD, Wenatchee; Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Pullman; and Incremental Systems Inc., Issaquah. The companies sponsor senior student projects, advise on the power-engineering curriculum, and collaborate with WSU faculty and students on graduate research in the power engineering program. Some of these companies will join the PSerc consortium.
The power industry is being restructured all over the world mainly through changes in governmental policy. Little research has been done on the engineering design and operation of this large complex network of generation, transmission and distribution under new deregulated structures, Bose said. Although the main goal of restructuring is to bring cheaper electricity to customers, another is to continue the reliability of electric service expected from the growing and technologically-dependent society.
To address this issue, PSerc seeks innovation in rapid information and computational analysis, planning and operational strategies for improved power systems. Other WSU power engineering faculty research will add to this knowledge. Kevin Tomsovic directs projects in intelligent-systems and advanced computer methods. Power-system stability is Mani Venkatasubramanian’s primary research focus. Robert Olsen and Pat Pedrow are helping design criteria for corona-free hardware on upgraded compact electric power lines. Olsen also researches extremely-low-frequency magnetic fields and their possible health effects.
“We are so used to having the light come on when we flip the switch that we forget the decades of engineering that gave us this reliable electric supply,” said Bose. “There is concern at the national level that this reliability is preserved as the power industry is deregulated. This is the purpose of PSerc, and we are happy to bring WSU’s expertise to this group of strong research universities.”