New Mexico Research Institutions Win Major NSF Award

SFIP’s Microgrid Systems Laboratory joins universities and national labs for microgrid focus

The National Science Foundation has awarded $20 million to a consortium of research institutions to develop the New Mexico SMART Grid Center. With local cost-share, total funding for the five-year program is $24 million.

The consortium, comprised of the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, and New Mexico Tech, with Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Microgrid Systems Laboratory, will work toward modernizing the nation’s electric grid to become SMART (Sustainable, Modular, Adaptive, Resilient, and Transactive).

More than 40 researchers (including new hires) will be involved across all institutions and activities. The research will focus on decentralized architectures, featuring microgrids at the utility distribution feeder level; associated networking, communications, data analytics and decision support; and economics and consumer behavior. In addition, MSL Member Santa Fe Community College will create related workforce training programs (LANL, SNL, and UNM are also MSL consortium Members), and will hire a full-time faculty in this area. Industry and utility partners include Siemens and Public Service Company of NM (PNM). New Mexico EPSCoR led the successful proposal effort, and will act as Project Director.

MSL, which made significant contributions to developing the NM SMART Grid Center vision and approach, serves on the project’s Management Team, on two research teams (Systems Architecture, and Testing and Deployment), as an advisor on technology commercialization and innovation, and as coordinator of the SFCC workforce program. As stated in the project’s Strategic Plan, “MSL is a key collaborator that is a hub of microgrid collaborative activity with industry.” The Center is envisioned as continuing beyond the five-year grant period, and will be a focus of MSL’s research program within its full RIDE scope (Research, Innovation, Demonstration, and Education).

Mission & Vision: As related in the project plan, the NM SMART Grid Center envisions a modern, secure, and sustainable electric grid supported by a diverse, next generation workforce. The Center’s mission is to investigate the fundamental challenges to transition the existing electricity transmission and distributed energy infrastructure into a SMART grid and develop supporting knowledge, national talent, and an informed public.

Project Description & Purpose: A new paradigm to advance and secure the aging electric grid is urgently needed to respond to evolving technologies, user choices and practices, regulations, and threats. A novel, interdisciplinary research center—the New Mexico SMART Grid Center—will be created to solve pressing design, operational, data, and security challenges of next-generation electric power production and delivery.

To achieve the SMART vision, a coordinated academic–national laboratory–industry research program will seek to transform existing electricity distribution feeders into interconnected Distribution Feeder Microgrids (DFMs) through four interrelated research thrusts: 1) Architecture, which will optimize DFM design, incorporating human preferences and supporting sustainability and resilience; 2) Networking, which will create new DFM networking and communications systems that are scalable, secure, and protect user privacy; 3) Decision-support, which will integrate machine learning, data mining, and knowledge-based techniques to make computer-aided and data-driven decisions in the SMART grid; and 4) Deployment, which will validate the proposed models and technologies in simulations and diverse testbeds that represent conditions typical of electricity grids and distribution feeders in New Mexico and the nation.

Research is tightly integrated with Center workforce development and education programs that will: 1) prepare a new cadre of highly competitive faculty and postdoctoral researchers; 2) strengthen and diversify the STEM pipeline via a focus on primarily undergraduate institutions; and 3) support novel community college workforce training.

Additional information is available at the NSF project award listing.