EME 6 demonstration on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.
EME 6 demonstration on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

Once again, WSU is a key player in a statewide effort to address the critical national need for a reliable and secure electric power grid. WSU’s long history and expertise in power engineering makes it an obvious partner for these public-private partnerships. Securing major state and federal funding, like the $2.25 million Clean Energy Fund grant that the Department of Energy is matching for this new project, is crucial to advancing research and innovation. However, WSU’s role in this project also points to the importance of smaller, private contributions that make this kind of collaboration possible.

Private support paves the way

The project, which the Department of Energy is calling a pioneering regional partnership for grid modernization, is a partnership between WSU, the University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It builds on the recently completed Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, which all of partners were involved in as well.

WSU’s role in the new project is centered on the “Smart City” test bed established in Pullman last year, which is the most comprehensive university lab of its kind. A grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and a gift from GE’s Grid Solutions business (formerly Alstom Grid) allowed the researchers to get the equipment and software needed to set up this realistic test bed. The test bed is complete with simulated windmills, solar panels, fuel cells, power substations, and smart meters, and allows researchers and utilities to explore new solutions to energy challenges in a realistic environment. So far the facility has been used to demonstrate new WSU research for defense against cyber intrusion of the power grids.

For the regional project, WSU researchers in the Energy Systems Innovation Center will install photovoltaic modules on the Pullman campus for the first time and integrate them into Pullman’s test bed and WSU’s micro grid system. Experiments will be designed to demonstrate that power generated on campus can be used to power critical city infrastructure in the event of a power outage. WSU will also develop strategies for sharing energy between WSU’s smart buildings and the solar modules.

Securing facility, equipment and software support from Murdock and Alstom is crucial for WSU researchers to keep advancing their discoveries and collaborating with industry.

History of collaboration with local company and foundation

The Murdock Trust is celebrating 40 years of partnering for the public good, a legacy WSU research has greatly benefited from. In the last 12 years, WSU has received over $10 million for funding of new facilities and lab equipment that advance research related to energy and biological sciences.

GE Grid Solutions has partnered with WSU since 2012 as a founding member of the Energy Systems Innovation Center, the university-industry group that is at the heart of WSU’s smart grid expertise. In addition to financial support, Alstom offers internships to WSU students, advises on current challenges facing the energy industry, and provides data that researchers can use for testing. A two-way partnership that results in better technologies and a well-trained power engineering workforce, which is desperately needed as the current population is getting ready for retirement.

These mutually beneficial relationships are why WSU has a team dedicated to corporate and foundation relations. Private partnership and support are important parts of the innovation ecosystem that introduces new technologies to the market, and well-trained graduates into the workforce. WSU is grateful for the support of foundations like Murdock and companies like GE Grid Solutions.