WSU researchers receive $2.3M to improve U.S. power grid design

By Erik Gomez, intern, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

Chen Ching Liu WSU Electrical Engineering

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers have received a $2.3 million Department of Energy grant to more efficiently distribute power and better manage outages for the U.S. electric power grid.

Chen-Ching Liu, Boeing Distinguished Professor; Anurag Srivastava, associate professor; and Anamika Dubey, assistant professor, all from WSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will lead the multipartner project that includes Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Argonne National Laboratory, Seattle City Light and GE Grid Solutions.

Single to multiple directional power

The U.S. power grid is centralized and one-directional in its distribution. That is, power mostly moves from a power source to people’s homes and businesses. With the introduction of privately owned energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, however, there is a new opportunity to enhance the resiliency of the grid.

The WSU team is developing plans for a proposed power distribution system that will include privately owned energy sources in a decentralized and bidirectional power grid. The researchers will use real-time, data-driven modeling to carefully observe and control the multiple energy sources.

Multiple options in power outage

Chen Ching Liu in WSU lab G
Chen-Ching Liu, WSU Boeing Distinguished Professor in Lab G

By using multiple energy sources, the researchers also are working to improve the management of power outages, which would restore power to critical areas faster and more efficiently than traditional outage management would. Instead of relying on unhappy customers to call about an outage, the researchers’ real-time data will automatically detect and pinpoint the problem.

“When the power goes out we are at the mercy of nature and the power company,” said Liu.  “During power outages with a traditional outage management system, there is only plan A. But with our system including all of these energy sources, we will have plan B, plan C, and that increases the resiliency of the grid.”

Complexity means flexibility

With the ability to detect the fault and use multiple energy sources, the new system will be able to effectively provide power in critical areas through a variety of pathways.

“Because of the complexity and flexibility of the new grid, our system will need to be able to identify the switching actions between sources and pathways and have them controlled, because the power is no longer coming from the power company. It is coming from the various energy sources,” said Dubey.

The researchers will conduct initial testing on their system in simulations in WSU’s smart grid testing laboratory. By the end of the project, they plan to scale up and test the system with actual scenarios from a real power system.


Media Contacts:

  • Chen-Ching Liu, Boeing Distinguished Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, 509-335-1150,
  • Tina Hilding, communications director, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, 509-335-5095,