UCLA teams with Korean energy research institute on smart grid

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Engineering school has entered into a 10-year partnership with the government-supported Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER) in South Korea to collaborate on smart grid research and the development of new technologies with the aim of creating a smart grid on an international level.

The project is being lead by Rajit Gadh, director of UCLA's Smart Grid Energy Research Center (SMERC) and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. The school of Engineering has been building and testing smart grid technology with major funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The partnership involves SMERC testing for the development of the software and platform involved in smart grid technology, while KIER focuses on various renewable energy technologies, such as solar, wind and fuel cells, as well as wireless communications and semiconductor systems, says SMERC.

As part of that effort, the UCLA School of Engineering is using the campus as an experimental lab to observe how wireless sensing and control systems can help create the smart grid.

SMERC is working on the UCLA WINSmartGrid (Wireless Internet Smart Grid), a network platform that allows electrically operated machines and appliances such as plug-in electric vehicles, washers, dryers and air conditioners to be wirelessly monitored, connected and controlled through a wireless communications framework.

The technology connects the machines and smart meters to the WINSmartGrid web service, which receives real-time feeds from utilities and external sources on the price of power at any time of day and other information, says SMERC.  Control signals can subsequently be sent via the WINSmartGrid network, which in turn can dynamically control various appliances in real time.

SMERC is also working on technology that allows electricity to flow back into the grid, either by energy that has been collected by solar panels or electricity that has been stored in the batteries of electric vehicles

"Utilities want to be able to do that, and some are willing to pay for it. So now the priority is to demonstrate that,” says Gadh.  “Once we demonstrate it, people will create markets for it. This research is important to KIER too."

Gadh envisions electric vehicles guzzling energy into their batteries overnight, when power is cheap, and then dispensing it back into homes and offices during the day, when electricity demand is at its highest. In one of UCLA's Parking Structures, two EV charging stations with devices that collect and wirelessly transmit data about electricity usage back to his lab have been installed.

The South Korean government is currently investing large sums to develop clean technology and renewable energy.  In 2009, South Korea launched a national smart-grid demonstration project with the construction of a smart-grid test-bed on Jeju Island. The test-bed is set to become the world's largest smart-grid community. By 2013, a total of approximately $5.6 million is expected to have been injected into the project.

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