Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

California university lab to study electric grid control theory

Steve Rogerson
April 4, 2016
Engineers from academia and industry will harness the power of control theory to help improve the way electric power grids are operated in San Diego and beyond in a research laboratory that opened last month on the University of California, San Diego, campus.
Called Sygma – for “synchrophasor grid monitoring and automation” – the industry-sponsored facility is located at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC).
Sometimes called the hidden technology, control theory can be applied to keep large systems or grid infrastructures in balance.
“The principle is based on real-time monitoring,” said Raymond de Callafon, a professor with the department of mechanical and aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego and director of the new laboratory. “Sensors take measurements of the physical environment and then the control system drives inputs to regulate and manage many different systems that interact with that environment.”
Cruise control systems in passenger cars and lorries are a good example of a control system; they are designed to calculate just how much fuel or electrical energy a vehicle needs to maintain a certain speed despite terrain changes. Much the same way that these cruise control systems measure velocity and control the accelerator pedal, the Sygma lab collects and analyses data from a device called a synchrophasor, which monitors conditions on power transmission lines. This includes currents, voltage and specific properties of electricity such as frequency, phase angle and real and reactive power flow.
The data will then be processed and ingested into models that will allow Sygma researchers to develop applications to control power flow to the grid by modulating the output of smart inverters, which are connected devices that convert direct current into the alternating current that is used on the power grid, said de Callafon, who teaches and researches many aspects in signal processing, estimation, experiment-based modelling and adaptive control.
“The emerging synchrophasor network on the smart grid is an embodiment of the much-discussed internet of things,” said de Callafon. “In addition to developing new systems and methods for monitoring and controlling electric grid stability, research conducted by the Sygma lab will impact the overall understanding of how to collect, store and analyse data from the vast sensor networks that will eventually comprise the IoT.”
The Sygma lab is supported by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), part of Sempra Energy; National Instruments; and OSIsoft, a manufacturer of application software for real-time data infrastructure that is providing the lab with the servers for data collection of the synchrophasor measurements. In addition, the lab will have access to the same computational tools that SDG&E uses to simulate the dynamic behaviour of electric microgrids.