NC State Aims to Develop ‘Internet for Energy’ at New NSF Engineering Research Center

North Carolina State University will lead a national research center that aims to revolutionize the nation’s power grid and speed renewable electric-energy technologies into every home and business.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Systems, to be headquartered on NC State’s Centennial Campus, will partner with universities, industry and national laboratories in 28 states and nine countries. The center will be supported by an initial five-year, $18.5 million grant from NSF with an additional $10 million in institutional support and industry membership fees. More than 65 utility companies, electrical equipment manufacturers, alternative energy start-ups and other established and emerging firms have committed to joining this global partnership.

The new center will develop technology that transforms the nation’s century-old, centralized power grid into an alternative-energy-friendly “smart grid” that can easily store and distribute energy produced from solar panels, wind farms, fuel cells and other energy sources. This “Internet for energy” will enable millions of users to generate their energy from renewable sources and sell excess energy to the power companies. Researchers envision consumers using this “plug-and-play” system anytime, from anywhere.

An ERC award is one of the largest and most prestigious awards granted by NSF. The FREEDM ERC is one of five new ERCs awarded by the NSF’s Generation Three ERC Program. The third-generation Engineering Research Centers build on the successes of the first and second generations of ERCs funded since 1985. They are designed to create university and industry partnerships in research and education that promote innovation, transform engineered systems, advance technology, and produce engineering graduates who can creatively contribute to U.S. competitive advantage in a global economy. The grant to NC State and its partners is a five-year commitment that is renewable for an additional five years. The award follows a two-year selection process by the federal agency.

Dr. Alex Huang, Progress Energy Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NC State, will be the center’s director. The research will begin immediately, with a new headquarters for the center scheduled to open in 2010 on NC State’s Centennial Campus.

“North Carolina State University works very hard at creating partnerships and collaborations that produce tangible results,” said Chancellor James Oblinger. “We applaud the collaborative spirit of Alex Huang’s work and believe the results that will come from this NSF center will deliver broad changes in our nation’s approach to energy. Solving the energy crisis is not just about generating renewable energy but developing the infrastructure needed for distribution. As more renewable energy becomes available, NC State research will help deliver it to millions of homes and businesses.”