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Kansas State University (KSU) in the US has received a three-year, $2.8 million research award from the US Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office to advance solar energy's role in strengthening the resilience of the US electricity grid.

The project will enhance utility operators' awareness of, and resilience to cyberattacks. 

The existing US power grid was designed to deliver power to customers from a central generator.

As more solar and other distributed energy resources are added to the grid, utility operators must develop new tools that will allow them to integrate diverse energy resources, detect and mitigate disturbances, and provide strong protection against physical and cyber risks.

However, the need for data sharing between the photovoltaic system, operational tools and the electric grid has led to increased vulnerability to cyberattack.

This project, led by Bala Natarajan, the Clair N. Palmer and Sara M. Palmer professor in the Mike Wiegers Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will develop cyber-smart photovoltaic inverter technologies, system-level coordinated cyberattack detection methods, robust state estimation strategies, and unique modeling and control capabilities. 

"Taken together, these technologies combine to enable measurements from solar inverters and grid sensors to be gathered and processed into actionable and visualized status updates for grid operators," Natarajan said. "These tools and algorithms will enable utilities to better manage and use data from distributed energy devices and enhance operations."

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The project is one of 10 selected nationwide in the Advanced Systems Integration for Solar Technologies program to develop grid management tools and models that show how solar situational awareness will enhance power system resilience, especially at critical infrastructure sites.

Kansas State University strives to be an international leader in power and energy systems, and cybersecurity. This project is among the largest to date in the electrical and computer engineering department at the university and is the first project from the solar office to be awarded to a university in Kansas. 

The research team includes co-investigators Hongyu Wu and Mohammad Shadmand, both assistant professors; Behrooz Mirafzal, associate professor; and Anil Pahwa, university distinguished professor, all from electrical and computer engineering at Kansas State University.

Collaborating industries and organizations include Oracle America Inc., the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Typhoon HIL Inc., Midwest Energy and Enphase Energy Inc.