Integrating Wind into the Grid

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 - 7:00pm

ECE professors, Mack Grady and Surya Santoso, are collecting the data needed to truly integrate wind power into the existing power grid—and creating the first university-lead phasor measurement network in the country.

University of Texas professors, Mack Grady and Surya Santoso, are another step closer to truly integrating wind power into the existing power grid. They are heading a consortium of private and public entities to create the first university-lead phasor measurement network in the country.

Although wind power is renewable, cheap, and nonpolluting, it provides only 1% of worldwide electricity use. The reason is fundamental. Power systems are most efficient when production exactly matches demand and wind power is wildly variable.

Up until recently, power engineers could broadly predict wind patterns, but they could not measure the voltage phase angle—which is the difference between current (electric flow) and voltage (the power of that flow) —without expensive infrastructure. The result was that engineers had to guess how much wind power was being produced and a conservative guess almost always wasted energy.

Obviously, the solution is to collect real data in real time and use real results, not projections, to keep electric loads balanced. Schweitzer Engineering Inc. donated $50 worth of equipment. The City of Austin’s electricity department, Austin Energy, is providing direct access to real measurements. Emerging Technologies gave first $120K.

Mack Grady, associate chairman of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in the Cockrell School, where he is the Jack S. Josey Professor in Energy Resources, leads another group working on technological problems and national outreach for renewable energy. In solar energy, Grady works closely with Austin Energy, operating solar radiation monitoring stations in Austin and West Texas to assess the performance of photovoltaic cells, predicting their power output based on orientation toward the sun. Austin Energy is a recognized leader in solar energy, perhaps the top utility on the subject, says Grady.

Grady also organizes and chairs the university's renewable energy workshop, which annually draws about 150 participants to campus.

He sees a bright future for solar in Texas because of the state's sun potential and because the widespread use of wind energy sets a precedent for working with renewable power. But if solar is to proliferate, he says, the cost must be more in line with energy from other sources.