Green, Science, Sustainability

New Power Converter Helps Connect Sustainable Sources to the Grid

US power grid
New technology could make renewable energy easier to integrate into the existing power grid.
Image: Shutterstock

Although renewable, sustainable power sources are incredibly important for future development, at the moment they can be a pain to adapt to existing power networks. The “grid,” referring to the interconnected system that the United States uses to power, well, everything, developed over the better part of a century to deal with certain kinds of inputs. As such, it’s quite good at accepting electricity generated by coal plants but not as good at adapting electricity generated by wind farms.

New sources of power, such as wind, geothermal, or solar, need new systems to convert that power for use in the grid. As it stands, there are systems for converting electricity from sources like solar panels, but they have problems. Those systems are bulky and have difficulty accepting inputs from multiple sources. With each kind of source needing its own converter, things get crowded fast. Worse, many of these systems are inefficient, meaning that some of the electricity generated is lost, making whole system less effective and more expensive.

A new system developed at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, might offer a solution. Developed by doctoral student Joseph Carr and his advisor Juan Balda, this new system is much smaller than most existing systems, and it can better handle multiple inputs with greater efficiency. The system uses a high-frequency matrix converter to handle the job, allowing one unit to convert multiple sources and direct that electricity to the grid. Systems like this might be the future, as sustainable power becomes increasingly common and allows that power to be collected and distributed without as much strain on the existing grid–and without requiring a significant overhaul.

As we move increasingly toward green, sustainable energy, the “grid” will likely see a total overhaul at some point to maximize efficiency and reduce waste. In the meantime, though, Mr. Carr has been awarded a patent for his work on a project that could be a big step in that direction.

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