Retired Lt. General Ken Eickmann of the US Air Force came to the Research Triangle with a warning: our electric grid today is at risk. As part of his presentation to a group hosted by the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster and the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, General Eickmann outlined these risks from cyber attacks, physical attacks, weather events and aging infrastructure. He understands the risks and consequences of grid failure first hand from extended exercises at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio to a security lockdown at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995. Large scale outages may be infrequent but the risks are real.
But General Eickmann also proposed some solutions. As a member of the Military Advisory Board, a non-partisan organization of retired general officers from the US military, he provided input to a recent report that offers multiple policy and technology recommendations. The existing grid is designed for centralized generation to deliver electricity over transmission lines long distances to end loads. Using more distributed generation inherently reduces the risk to the grid by locating generation closer to loads, increasing flexibility and reducing the chance of large scale power outages. Increasing distributed renewable generation is the mission of the FREEDM Systems Center.
To learn more about our research, General Eickmann toured the FREEDM facilities in the Keystone Science Center on NC State’s Centennial Campus. Dr. Pritchard explained the overall concepts of the FREEDM design and we reviewed specific project results like our use of Real Time Digital Simulators to accurately model utility feeders and the successive generations of the Solid State Transformer that incorporates silicon carbide and gallium nitride semiconductors.
General Eickmann was particularly interested in our small DC House used to demonstrate common DC appliances and how those interact with a home energy management system that incorporates solar PV and energy storage. He is also Deputy Director at the Center for Energy Security at the University of Texas and offered to share residential load data from the Pecan Street Project, a purpose-built smart grid neighborhood in Austin.
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