Members of the Council also toured the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Systems Center, a National Science Foundation -funded research center on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus which focuses on smart grid technology and distributed energy.
Rogelio Sullivan, managing director of the FREEDM Center and Advanced Transportation Energy Center calls the visit by the Council members “fantastic. It gave us the opportunity to not only talk about the potential impact the Center’s research and development can have in the future on energy and the environment, but it also gave us the chance to describe how the FREEDM education activities can help to develop a well-prepared workforce for the Smart Grid.”
FREEDM was established in 2008 by a five-year, $18.5 million Engineering Research Center grant from the National Science Foundation. The center benefits from its location in the Triangle, one of the nation’s top smart grid hubs. According to a recent Duke University study, there are almost 60 smart grid companies in the region including ABB, which is developing a Smart Grid Center of Excellence just down the road from FREEDM on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus.
One of the FREEDM Center’s focuses is on the next generation of distribution transformers. In April, one of the transformers under development was named to MIT Technology Review’s 2011 list of the world’s 10 most important emerging technologies. The devices, called smart solid-state transformers, enable the smart grid to both handle the power demands and have the ability to push renewable energy it back onto the grid. The smart transformers will also precisely control voltage, frequency, and other electrical properties as they communicate with the rest of the grid. It is expected the devices will require three to five more years of development before they are ready for commercial development.
Stephen Cass, special projects editor for the Technology Review, deems the devices “a major advance for smart grids, allowing the flow of electricity to be controlled and rerouted in a manner similar to how data is routed around the Internet. Our goal is to create a more efficient, smaller, and lighter transformer down the road,” says Sullivan. “It will need to be fully developed functionally, then tested for reliability, durability and other qualities, before it can be made commercially attractive.”