From Scott Carlberg

For this Labor Day we have looked at people who are part of the power industry and keep the electricity running in the Carolinas. There are people who are not part of an energy utility or manufacturer, but still work hard to help keep our lights on now and in the future.

Educators and researchers.

The Carolinas are lucky to have good people doing this across both states. We scanned some higher ed news sites for a few who show the diverse kinds of energy work they do.

Researchers in the U of SC are working on technology for micro-grids, small scale versions of big electric grids.

Andrea Benigni and his colleagues in the University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing’s Integrated Grids Lab are working on microgrids and the way they can change when there are unexpected events, like storms. “Self-healing systems” is the way the industry talks about this kind of network.

Benigni and his colleagues are creating the technology for micro-grids (small-scale versions of interconnected electric grids). He is working on a project to make the community-scale, direct current micro-grids part of the mainstream.

Andrea Benigni

The idea is to provide clean, independent and resilient power generation and storage, with interconnected electric grids that locally manage energy storage and resources, such as solar, wind and thermal systems. These micro-grids could connect to a larger host grid and would be able to provide clean, independent and resilient power generation and storage.

Benigni also is working on research with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory that focuses on the global integration of electrical grids to eliminate large-scale blackouts.

Chris Edrington

Also in South Carolina, an electrical engineer has joined Clemson University as the new Warren H. Owen Distinguished Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Chris Edrington brings to Clemson deep experience in control systems, drive systems and applied power electronics, says the Clemson news service.

“I feel like this area is growing very fast from a technology point of view,” Edrington said. It’s a fertile environment to take ideas that have gone from basic science to applied science and move them into commercialization, he said.

Some of Edrington’s most recent research has focused on control systems on naval ship power systems and on low-voltage distribution systems. He plans to continue work in both areas and is looking for opportunities to expand into automotive research.

The Warren H. Owen Professorship is named for a former Duke Energy executive vice president of design engineering who oversaw the teams that designed Oconee Nuclear Station, McGuire Nuclear Station and Catawba Nuclear Station. All are still generating power.

Behnaz Papari

Dr. Behnaz Papari joined UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center in December, 2018, as Assistant Professor of Practice in Power Electronics & Engineering, and the Manager of the Duke Energy Smart Grid Lab.

She has expertise in power systems with an emphasis on modeling, analysis, control, planning, and optimization. Her specialties are distributed controls and decision analysis under uncertainty, applications on energy system modeling, and Stochastic optimization. Her research interests include renewable energy sources, power and energy management, control of stand-alone and utility interactive energy systems, distributed control of smart grids, and real-time power distribution system simulation and hardware-in-the-loop instantiation.

Our readers know about solar energy, but do you know that it is still developing? NC State University reported that multi-junction solar cells are both the most efficient type of solar cell on the market and the most expensive to produce. The cells are constructed by stacking semiconductors on top of one another to absorb differing wavelengths of solar radiation.

NCSU researchers have a new approach to multi-junction solar cells using off-the-shelf components. That can be cheaper. “We want to create high efficiency solar cells at a reasonable cost,” says Salah Bedair, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NC State and lead author of the research. “If we could create stacked solar cells using this existing technology we would be well on our way to reaching our goal.”

It’s complex.

You cannot merely stack different solar cells on top of each other – the different materials are structurally incompatible, and so charges cannot pass through them to be collected. To solve that problem in current multi-junction solar cells heavily doped metals are used to create a tunnel junction between the various layers – adding significant expense and complexity to the multi-junction solar cell’s creation. Bedair and his team developed a simpler approach to bond solar cells made of different materials.

It is a sunny story that you can find here.

These educators and researchers provide knowledge to people who work in the energy industry in North and South Carolina, and they also build the Carolinas’ reputation as a place where good things happen in energy.


The image, right and at the top: Dr. Nicolas Sockeel (l) and Jim Gafford (r) with UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC), prepare for testing of a C-ion energy storage system prototype.  The story, Transforming Sunlight Into Energy, is by the UNC Charlotte College of Engineering, March 15, 2019.