Grant funds ‘smart city’ power grid lab at WSU

By Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture

Liu-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Addressing the critical national need for a reliable and secure electric power grid, Washington State University researchers are building the most comprehensive “smart city” laboratory in the U.S. to test smart grid technologies.

Scientists have received a $500,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust to build a city of the future in WSU’s engineering buildings complete with simulated windmills, solar panels, fuel cells, power substations and smart meters.

“Smart grid technology is at a critical stage with a need for successful demonstration,” said Chen-Ching Liu, director of WSU’s Energy Systems Innovation Center and leader of the project. “Large scale deployment will provide great opportunities to improve energy efficiency and grid reliability. A realistic test bed will enable us to make sure our research will be practical in the real world.’’

Simulates real-life, complex testing

Starting with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) began a $4.5 billion investment in smart grid technologies that included demonstration grants and workforce training at institutions and utilities around the country.

Liu in the “smart city” lab at WSU.

With a long history and top-ranked program in power engineering research, WSU received support for a number of projects. Those include workforce development and participation in a DOE-funded smart grid demonstration project. Pullman is one of just a few smart grid cities in the U.S.

Utilities are making and testing equipment upgrades for a smarter power grid, but the grid’s complexity doesn’t easily allow these technologies to be tested system-wide.

“The already complex power grid becomes an order of magnitude more complex when combined with information-age technologies,’’ Liu said. “With this comprehensive test bed, we will be among the best in the country. This will speed up adoption of smart grid technologies, which are difficult to test in real-life. ‘’

Renewable sources, technology require flexibility

Cities of the future will use more renewable energy to meet power needs. Solar and wind power are ramping up quickly in the U.S., which creates technical issues and requires more flexibility from the power grid, Liu said.

The smart grid will have to be more efficient and secure and will increasingly use computerized communications and automation. Features such as smart meters will provide feedback to utilities about customer choices and desires.

The WSU researchers hope the test lab will help utilities answer questions such as how to better prevent and stop blackouts, save energy and incorporate smart meters. The test bed will have comprehensive, advanced facilities for studying the power grid at the systems level and for including complex interactions between subsystems and components.

Smart meters improve energy efficiency

The scientists last year received a donation from Alstom Grid that provided software to do simulations of electricity transmission and distribution. In addition to the Murdock Trust, Avista Corp. and Itron provide support for the lab.

The researchers will have the facilities to simulate automation, power substations, renewable energy devices, communication technology and smart meters. The lab will include wireless links to smart meters on the WSU campus. Research on smart meter data will enable development of demand-response programs that improve energy efficiency.


Chen-Ching Liu, WSU Energy Systems Innovation Center, 509-335-1150,
Tina Hilding, communications coordinator, WSU Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, 509-335-5095,