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Nov. 13, 2008

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Integrating new clean and efficient energy sources into the existing electric system is not as simple as adding the sources to regional power grids. But it also is not insurmountable, according to Smith professor Judith Cardell.

With a new $70,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Cardell is leading research that will determine how to combine new energy sources into the existing system without hurting its stability.

“The electric power system is one of the most complex, interconnected engineering systems in existence,” said Cardell, associate professor in engineering and computer science. “As this system evolves under the combined influence of restructuring, technological advances and restrictions on pollution emissions, distributed energy resources organized into semi-autonomous 'microgrids' will have an important role.”

The project promotes the expanded use of these distributed resources such as wind-turbines, photovoltaics and cogeneration plants, and creates new opportunities for Smith undergraduates to learn about a critical industry – one that has suffered from a decline in student interest, according to Cardell.

The best way to promote the evolution of the electric power system is to demonstrate the effectiveness of distributed energy resources in meeting the demand for clean and reliable electricity. In an industry that suffers when blackouts occur, reliability is a factor that must be proven before the industry will change, said Cardell.

Cardell is an adjunct researcher with the Power Systems Engineering Research Center (PSERC), a national collaborative of about 400 researchers from more than a dozen institutions of higher education that allows academics and industry to work together to plan for the necessary evolution of the power system. Smith is among the few colleges within the NSF-initiated collaboration; most are large universities.

To accomplish the goal, Cardell’s work focuses on developing computer simulations of the electric power system. With the NSF grant, Cardell will develop computer models in which each new small-scale power generator will determine output and price on its own, but within a set of rules. Designing these operating rules and demonstrating that they will ensure grid stability is a major objective of the research.

Once the modeling framework is developed, it will be used to analyze the effectiveness of the system on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and on the economic ability of individual providers to participate in bulk electricity markets as a unified resource.

Before coming to Smith, Cardell worked for the federal government and as a consultant to the power industry. She was involved in writing federal electricity policy that addressed many aspects of the deregulation of the electric power industry.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
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