TTU student studies reducing costs of power generation, wins national energy grant

In the next few years, more electric power will be generated from green sources such as sunlight, wind and hydrogen (fuel cells) using a distributed network of small local generators, therefore decreasing our dependence large centralized fossil fueled power plants.

In the next few years, population growth will force electric power systems to install new transmission lines, but a less expensive and more efficient solution is the subject of Tennessee Tech University research. TTU researchers are at the forefront of developing efficient, optimized methods of building and operating this distributed power generation infrastructure.

“Our research will optimize the use of distribution power generation that already exists in an area of electrical energy demand,” said Ndaga Mwakabuta, a TTU engineering doctoral candidate from Tanzania.

Mwakabuta received a $4,000 national Demonstration of Energy-Efficient Development grant from the American Public Power Association. He received the grant for his project titled “Optimal Penetration of Distributed Generation into the Electric Distribution System.”

The idea is to use small power generators available locally to optimize the operation and energy costs of the entire power distribution system, known as “the grid”. According to Mwakabuta, using distributed generators in the electric system is one option for improving power stability and reliability, reducing emissions and saving money.

To be eligible for the DEED student research grant, students must be sponsored by an APPA member power utility. Mwakabuta was sponsored by the Cookeville Electric Department.

“This TTU project allows the city to participate in cutting-edge research,” said Ed Greenwell Cookeville Electric Department electric engineer. “It provides good development for the city in the area of energy generation and conservation.”

He also said it is great to help the power industry as a whole, and he says he expects Mwakabuta’s research to be of great value.

Arun Sekar, electrical engineering professor and Mwakabuta’s adviser, said localizing utilities generation is a growing trend nationwide due to transportation expenses. The project will help rural areas depend less on outside power sources and meet power needs more locally.

Mwakabuta plans to find out how many local generators can be allowed in the system, what sizes the generators need to be, what price the utility can pay the local generator for their power and what the optimal locations for the generators are throughout the grid.

Each year, the APPA gives only 10 DEED grants and internships to students conducting research on energy-related projects. Students are required to write an abstract and final report at the completion of the project.

For more information, contact Sekar at 931-372-3626.
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