UWM researcher works to build largest microgrid

Adel Nasiri envisions system that will generate power from wind turbine, solar panels, generators and batteries.

A small wind turbine recently erected near Outpost Natural Foods on E. Capitol Drive is more than a token piece of green power.

It’s a high profile element of a project by a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researcher who aims to build one of the largest experimental microgrids in the country.

Adel Nasiri, a professor of power electronics at the UWM College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, envisions a small scale system that will generate power from the turbine, solar panels, natural gas generators and lithium-ion batteries.

Microgrids act as a free-standing power source that can provide electricity to the surrounding area and also send power to the overall electrical grid. Microgrids are gaining attention as a means to address the expense, loss of productivity and security risks associated with power outages.

Nasiri’s project is one of several microgrids being assembled around the state. Some business leaders and officials with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. believe that microgrids and distributed energy systems are key areas of future growth in sales and exports.

Similar efforts include microgrid and renewable energy research at the Wisconsin Energy Institute at UW-Madison, and a project at the Milwaukee School of Engineering to develop computer models for green buildings that offset all their greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency and clean energy sources.

In addition, there are plans to create a research and business accelerator inside the former laboratory space of Eaton Corp. on Milwaukee’s north side, at the home of the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium. That work includes designing a build-out of an Energy Innovation Center in more than 60,000 square feet of research and production facilities inside Century City Towers, the former Eaton Research Center.

Officials in energy-focused businesses anticipate growing demand for components in distributed energy and microgrid systems.

Interest in microgrids has surged since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in the Northeast in 2012 and left more than 8.5 million utility customers without power. Some experts concluded that most power outages are failure of the distribution system — the poles and wires that bring power to homes.

“It’s been really picking up. When we started the discussion, it was before Sandy,” Nasiri said. “The way I see it this will be the trend. This is the direction that a lot of companies want to produce their own power.”

To read more please visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.