Using brain cells to power the smart grid


Ganesh Kumar
Clemson University
Clemson, SC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — April 19, 2013 – Researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina are leading a project to investigate how the functioning of the brain may be applied to the management of the power grid, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has revealed.

Led by Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy, director of the university’s Real-Time Power and Intelligent Systems Laboratory, a team of neuroscientists and engineers is using neurons grown in a dish to control simulated power grids. The researchers hope that studying how neural networks integrate and respond to complex information will lead to new methods for managing the power grid.

“The brain is one of the most robust computational platforms that exist,” said Venayagamoorthy. “As power systems control becomes more and more complex, it makes sense to look to the brain as a model for how to deal with all of the complexity and the uncertainty that exists.”

Among the participants is neuroscientist Steve Potter, director of the Laboratory for NeuroEngineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has pioneered a new method to investigate how the brain responds to information at the network level. The technique involves growing neurons in a dish containing a grid of electrodes, which connects them to a computer to allow two-way communication between the living and the electronic components.

Achievements to date include successfully “teaching” a living neuronal network to respond to complex data – in this case voltage and speed signals from the power grid simulation. These findings have been incorporated into simulated bio-inspired artificial neural networks (BIANNS), which are currently being tested to control synchronous generators connected to a power system.

The long term goal is to translate the physical and functional changes that occur as a living neuronal network learns into mathematical equations, ultimately leading to a more brain-like intelligent control system.

The 4-year research project, which is due to conclude in October, is being supported by the NSF’s Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI). In addition to Clemson University and Georgia Tech, the third participating institution is Missouri University of Science and Technology.