Keeping the Lights On

IEEE Fellows are working on smart-grid and renewable-energy technologies

7 November 2014

This article is part of our series highlighting IEEE Fellows in celebration of the Fellow program’s 50th anniversary year.

Many of us take for granted that the lights in our homes come on every time we flip a switch. But in some places, where power grids are outdated or damaged by harsh weather, it can be much harder to keep electricity flowing. To deal with these problems, three IEEE Fellows have made contributions to smart-grid and renewable-energy technologies that provide reliable resources of electricity—even for those living far away from major power plants.

STANDARDIZING THE GRID

Electric utilities must constantly monitor their substations and secondary stations for the electricity being generated to keep the grid up and running. IEEE Fellow Christoph Brunner has spent more than two decades working on improving communications and automation technology for substations. 

He is president and founder of IT4Power, a consultant specializing in information technology for improving the smart grid, in Zug, Switzerland. Brunner belongs to the IEEE Standards Association, where he helped develop IEEE C37.111-2013, a standard for measuring relays and protection equipment for power systems. He is also a key contributor to the International Electrotechnical Commission’s Committee on Power Systems (IEC TC57), where he helps develop standards for smart-grid management and IT.

The committee has been working on a standard computer interface that can help substation operators monitor and control distributed energy resources (DERs). These are smaller-scale and modular systems designed to provide electricity close to where the customers are. This allows them to draw power from local sources and not rely on larger power plants farther away. Because DERs serve smaller areas, they can often rely on solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources to produce most of their power.

Brunner was elevated in 2012 for “development of global standards for substation automation and smart grids.”

WINDS OF CHANGE

Just one of the largest wind turbines being used today can power up to 600 homes. Such turbines are usually clustered in wind farms, predicted to meet one-third of the world’s electricity needs by 2025. At the end of 2013, the American Wind Energy Association reported that wind projects under construction in the United States could power the equivalent of 3.5 million homes.

One of the engineers behind wind energy’s success is IEEE Fellow Eduard Muljadi, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colo. Muljadi’s work focuses on the electric machinery and power converters that maximize the amount of energy produced by wind turbines. He also works on the solid-state power converters needed to incorporate wind turbine generators into the existing power grid, as well as controllers that help sustain a consistent energy flow regardless of changes in wind speed. He was elevated to Fellow in 2010* for “contributions to wind turbine control and integration of wind power in the power system grid.”

CONVERTERS FOR CLEAN ENERGY

Determined to rely totally on renewable energy by 2050, the country of Denmark is well on its way toward reaching that goal. Thirty percent of the country’s electricity is generated by wind power, and homeowners have installed enough rooftop solar panels to quadruple Denmark’s photovoltaic energy capacity in the past two years. To incorporate renewable energy sources into the grid, utilities rely on power converters. They convert the DC produced by wind turbines and solar panels into the AC needed by the power grid.

IEEE Fellow Remus Teodorescu is at the forefront of advancing power converter technology as utilities begin to rely less on electricity generated from fossil fuels. He is a professor of power electronics at Aalborg University, Denmark, where he is coordinator of the Green Power Research Group and Laboratory. His research focuses on the design and control of grid converters for renewable energy systems. Recent work involved developing power converters for offshore wind farms, smart photovoltaic systems, and energy management systems for power plants.

Teodorescu is chair of the IEEE Denmark Section’s joint chapter of the IEEE Industry Applications, Industrial Electronics, and Power Electronics societies. He is also associate editor of IEEE Transactions of Power Electronics Letters. Teodorescu was elevated to Fellow in 2012 for “contributions to grid-connected renewable-energy converter systems technology.”

*This article has been corrected.

Learn More