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Technology helps electricity consumers become suppliers

Robert H. Lasseter

Robert H. Lasseter (large image)

In industry, electricity is measured in quality as well as quantity. A disruption in the power supply can damage sensitive equipment as well as cost many thousands of dollars in lost productivity.

Thanks to technology invented by Robert Lasseter, a professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering, large electricity customers across the country could soon be enhancing their power quality while lowering their energy cost.

One of America's largest electricity producers, American Electric Power, and the Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions (CERTS) recently signed a memorandum of understanding to work cooperatively to research, develop and demonstrate Lasseter's microgrid concept.

CERTS is an industry-university-government cooperative group that researches, develops and disseminates new methods, tools and technologies to protect and enhance the reliability of the U.S. electric power system.

Through CERTS, Lasseter developed simple, reliable power-electronics control technology that allows a business to switch between generating its own power and pulling power from the utility's vast network of power lines known as “the grid.” Just as a utility matches the power it produces to user demand, each small generator needs power electronics equipment to match the power it produces to the loads on its own microgrid.

During a utility grid disturbance, the technology seamlessly separates and isolates the microgrid from the utility, with no disruption to the loads within the microgrid, including no reduction in power quality. Then, when the utility grid returns to normal, the microgrid automatically resynchronizes and reconnects itself to the grid in an equally seamless fashion.

“What is unique about the CERTS Microgrid is that by incorporating peer-to-peer and plug-and-play concepts for each component within the microgrid, it can provide this technically challenging functionality without extensive and expensive custom engineering,” says Lasseter. “In addition, the design of the CERTS Microgrid also provides high system reliability and great flexibility in the placement of distributed generation within the microgrid.”

American Electric Power will assemble specially modified equipment at its research and development facility in Gahana, Ohio. Full-scale testing of the CERTS Microgrid will begin this summer.

“The CERTS Microgrid is a win-win for both the utility and the customer because it is designed from a system's perspective,” says Holly Koeppel, executive vice president for American Electric Power. “It fully addresses the interconnection safety issues of the utility while increasing the utility's overall reliability. It also lowers the cost of energy to the customer.”

Other participants in the CERTS Microgrid research program include Sandia National Laboratories, Northern Power Systems and TeCogen Inc.

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4/13/2006