New center to help ensure reliability of nation’s power grid

By Control Engineering Staff July 3, 2006

Fayetteville , AR —Progress toward a more reliable and efficient national power grid is underway as the University of Arkansas begins construction on a National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission. The 7,000-sq-ft facility, being built at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park in south Fayetteville, will have 6.5 MW power capacity for testing components rated up to 15 kV.

Said to be the only facility of its kind in the U.S., the center will house equipment and researchers who will design, test, and package purely electronic systems for future use in the nation’s power grid. Solid-state equipment, made partially of silicon carbide, is expected to replace outdated and obsolete electromechanical devices in the future. New equipment should improve response time and increase grid reliability and help localize outages. Inability to localize outages was a major contributor to the catastrophic 2003 blackout in the Northeastern U.S.

“This facility will be the hub of advanced power-electronics research and education in mid-America,” said Alan Mantooth, professor of electrical engineering and center director. Mantooth conceived the idea for the center after the 2003 blackout, prompted in part by a critical concentration at the university of researchers investigating silicon-carbide, a semiconducting material more durable and with faster switching capability than materials currently used in the power grid. Mantooth and his team received a $1 million congressional appropriation in 2005 to create and operate the center. They expect to receive an additional $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2007.

Center researchers plan to create mathematical models of silicon-carbide devices to simulate the design of large systems. Devices, then, will be tested and packaged. Packaging involves creating protective coatings and enclosures to prevent the material from breaking down when subjected to high voltages and currents and when interacting with air and water. Solid-state silicon carbide systems could lead to purely electronic switches that would react up to 200 times faster than the electromechanical switches currently used in the power grid.

Click here to read more about the effort.

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk

Jeanine Katzel , senior editor