Leaders in Energy Solutions Meet at UWM

Members of NSF-backed center aim to improve power grid’s stability, flexibility, robustness, and economy

In May, researchers from a National Science Foundation-backed research center that focuses on energy solutions held their semi-annual meeting at UWM. The NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) research center is called GRid-Connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems, or GRAPES.

The meeting brought together university members from UWM, University of Arkansas, University of South Carolina, Yonsei University (South Korea), and Aachen University (Germany). GRAPES membership is growing and now includes nearly 20 industrial and government entities.

GRAPES was launched by the University of Arkansas and the University of South Carolina in 2009. UWM became an academic partner in GRAPES in 2017, when the UWM College of Engineering & Applied Science received an NSF grant of $100,000 annually for three years to start a new university site for the GRAPES I/UCRC.

How GRAPES Could Strengthen Wisconsin’s Power Grid

Here in Wisconsin, GRAPES I/UCRC partners with industry to develop new technologies for storing, controlling and distributing energy, so that innovations are compatible with the existing grid and safe from cybersecurity threats.

The research will affect how Americans access energy – including renewable sources – in the near future. Collaborative research with industry members also will fuel development of new products necessary for the transition to a more robust and resilient electric grid.

“The industry-led work at GRAPES aims to make electricity more reliable, greener and less expensive,” said Adel Nasiri, Site Director for the NSF I/UCRC on GRAPES at UWM. “That makes it a perfect fit for the expertise in microgrid technology that UWM brings.”

Instead of drawing electrical power from large plants, microgrids integrate energy from multiple, smaller sources, including renewables, and contribute the power it generates to the national electrical grid. Microgrids can also act as free-standing power systems, independent of the grid, for a limited area, such as a neighborhood or factory.

UWM’s Microgrid Experts Have Greener, More Reliable Grid in Sight

UWM faculty are solving the challenges that are keeping microgrids from entry into a market that is projected to generate $1.6 billion in revenue in the next few years.
“By working with business and exchanging ideas, we each have a clearer line of sight between the research labs and consumer,” said Brett Peters, Dean, UWM College of Engineering & Applied Science. “With that, we can solve today’s tough challenges more quickly.”

The NSF funds administrative activities for about 50 I/UCRCs. Members come from academia, governmental agencies and private companies who pay for the cost of research in a pre-competitive, shared intellectual property arrangement. GRAPES research has already resulted in several spin-off companies since its inception.

This is the second I/UCRC in which UWM is a partner. In 2010, UWM and Marquette University established an I/UCRC in Milwaukee that focuses on creating the next generation of products and processes to advance the water industry.

UWM’s membership will help create even more commercial products and startups, according to Nasiri. The center’s Midwest-based member companies include Eaton Corp., American Transmission Company, We Energies and DRS

Click to see event photos