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Northeastern awarded $2.3 million to boost efficiency of electric grid

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Electrical and computer engineering researchers at Northeastern University have been awarded $2.3 million as part of a five-year, $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the nation’s next generation of electric power transmission grids.

The grant will be used to establish the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Network (CURENT), the seventh federally-funded national research center awarded to the College of Engineering in the last four years.

CURENT—whose mission is to build a more reliable, secure and efficient electric grid transmission system that uses renewable energy sources, such as wind and sunlight—aligns with the University’s focus on use-inspired research that solves global challenges in security and sustainability.

Northeastern researchers plan to develop a real-time monitoring application for the smart-grid system, which will be designed to minimize blackout rates and improve energy efficiency in bulk power transmission and usage.

“Maintaining efficient and resilient operation of the power transmission grid becomes increasingly important as the use of renewable resources increases,” said electrical and computer engineering professor and chair, Ali Abur, who will serve as director of Northeastern’s CURENT site. “Successful monitoring will allow us to significantly improve energy efficiency and minimize cascading outages.”

The center, which will be housed at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will serve as a global hub for researchers from around the world. In addition to Northeastern, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and Tuskegee University in Alabama will play a role in revamping the country’s aging electrical grid infrastructure system. Three international partner schools—including the National Technical University of Athens in Greece, Tsinghua University in China and the University of Waterloo in Canada—will collaborate on activities through the center.

The center will also develop a robust educational program for students at participating universities. More than three-dozen industry partners from small start-up firms, manufacturers and utility companies, for example, will provide engineering students with first-hand experience in entrepreneurship.

“This project represents the commitment of the college and its faculty to work with industry, other universities and the government for a better future for the nation,” said David Luzzi, dean of the College of Engineering.

“Our work through CURENT ties directly to two of the core areas of research at the College of Engineering, including energy sustainability, particularly in urban environments, and the development of ubiquitous sensing that enables advanced data collection, analysis and active response.”