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University, industry collaborate at GRAPES center

There is no question that the electric power industry is critical to the economy and security of the country. Without electric power, everything stops.

At the University of South Carolina, a collaborative research center for the GRid-Connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems (GRAPES) brings together industry representatives and university researchers to help predict and control the way power is generated, distributed and used. The goal is to improve the robustness of the power grid – a system that is threatened by aging equipment, terrorism and the lack of integration between generation, transmission, distribution and utilization.

“The demand for electrical energy is increasing and political and environmental pressures are forcing adoption of new power generation resources, such as wind, solar and tidal, that do not fit well into the traditional architecture of the electric power grid. As a result, our ability to control the grid will rapidly erode without substantial changes and standardization of the control mechanisms embedded in the system’s power electronics,” said Dr. Roger Dougal, professor of electrical engineering and director of USC’s GRAPES center. “The potential adverse economic and security effects of this erosion are enormous.”

GRAPES researchers are working to speed the standardization, adoption and insertion of power electronics into the electric grid to improve the system’s stability, flexibility, robustness and economy. The goal involves developing new technologies, software and tools to advance power electronic systems. The center also works to educate engineers about power electronic technologies.

“The center is designed to generate ideas for making these improvements and to transition those ideas to the market,” Dougal said.

GRAPES began in 2009 as a partnership between USC and the University of Arkansas. It receives funding from industry members and the National Science Foundation. It promotes collaboration between higher education and industry by pulling together researchers, utility companies, defense contractors, equipment manufacturers and component suppliers.

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