RENCI, NC State receive NSF funding for smart grid communications development


Yufeng Xin

The National Science Foundation recently announced plans to award nearly $12 million to US Ignite, as part of the new White House “Smart Cities” Initiative, which will provide funding to projects and organizations developing next-generation Internet applications.

One of the projects that will benefit from the new funding is a joint effort involving RENCI, North Carolina State University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology to develop an advanced design architecture that will integrate cloud computing and next-generation communication networks with wide-area control of large power systems based on Synchronized Phasor Measurements, or “Synchophasors.”

Yufeng Xin, a senior network research engineer, will lead the three-year effort at RENCI and will work closely with Aranya Chakrabortty, PhD, an associate professor in the NC State department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a faculty member at NC State’s FREEDM Systems Center.

Following the Northeast blackout of 2003, tremendous efforts have been made to modernize the U.S. electric power infrastructure by installing sophisticated digital sensors called Phasor Measurement Units. Thousands of PMUs are now in operation, but grid operators struggle with communicating and processing the huge amounts of data they collect to control centers, where that information can be used to spot and troubleshoot problems and take timely actions, especially during critical disturbances.

This project tackles the challenge of developing a transformative wide-area communication network and distributed control center architecture that guarantees just-in-time data delivery and processing. The new funding will allow Xin and his collaborators to begin to develop a resilient, fault-tolerant, and reliable wide-area networked control system for tomorrow’s power grids.

The team will use emerging technologies such as cloud computing and software defined networking (SDN) to support the proposed distributed large-scale power grid control. Validation and verification will be done using a power system communication test bed known as the ExoGENI-WAMS test bed, recently developed in Chakrabortty’s research laboratory at the FREEDM Systems Center in collaboration with RENCI.

“A networked system architecture that can reliably deliver and process this critical power grid data in real time so it can be used for decision making and quick responses can help prevent problems like the blackout of 2003,” said Xin. “In addition, its stringent requirements can help us develop new communications and distributed computing technologies to support the broader smart city and cyber-physical system research communities.”

Related work by Xin and Chakrabortty won awards for best application in the energy and sustainability sector at US Ignite Application Summits in 2013 and 2014.

For more information:

White House “Smart Cities” Initiative

National Science Foundation Press Release

US Ignite blog post

NC State press release

Project website