USF to Build Largest Comprehensive Energy Smart Grid in Southeast

TAMPA, Fla. (March 9, 2009) – The University of South Florida’s Power Center for Utility Explorations and Progress Energy Florida have been selected by Florida’s Energy and Climate Commission to build the largest and most comprehensive smart grid in the Southeast, serving at least 5,000 customers on the west side of St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach.


The three-year, $15 million project will incorporate alternative energy sources such as solar power and biodiesel fuel into the electrical power supply for the neighborhoods. Incorporating cutting-edge technology, the program aims to develop a system that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create a power supply that better adapts to energy demands and one which serves customers with better reliability and efficiency.


USF’s proposal was chosen from a field of 140 applicants. The project is funded in collaboration between the Governor’s Energy Office, Progress Energy Florida, Publix, and HD Supply. Development of the system is slated to begin in April.


“This is a great win for our country and USF in particular, and showcases the strength of collaborations, the leadership of Progress Energy, and is one that we have been working on for many years to form flexible, reliable and intelligent electric energy delivery systems to benefit the public and nation,” said Alex Domijan, principal investigator on the project and the director of the Power Center for Utility Explorations. “Smart grids are one way to develop a system that is flexible, with a different portfolio of energy sources, that’s able to survive natural and man-made disasters and one which people can manage their accounts by themselves.”


The project comes as the national leaders are increasingly turning their attention to the development of smart grids as a way to make energy consumption more efficient and as a means of incorporating more sustainable energy sources into the nation’s power grid. Researchers estimate that improving the efficiency of the national electricity grid by 5 percent would be the equivalent of eliminating the fuel use and carbon emissions of 53 million cars.


Among the features of the smart grid is the ability to adjust the price of real-time price information for consumers that would encourage them to conserve during peak demand hours and manage their energy consumption throughout the day.  Individuals or businesses who can produce energy – for example with solar panels or biofuels – could contribute to power in the grid for others to use, lowering costs for all.


The grid is a culmination of more than two decades of research into building power systems that are flexible in their use, more friendly to the environment and which incorporate power from different sources, including sustainable energy like solar and battery power, Domijan said.


The hope is that this project opens the door to a larger, more expansive smart grid in the Tampa Bay region and elsewhere in the United States.


“You want this to spread through the whole country because that’s the only way to improve efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases,” Domijan said. “This not just a little laboratory. This is the big deal out there.”


Once developed, the smart grid will be the first in Florida and one of the largest in the nation delivering power to homes and businesses. Unlike systems in other cities that implement elements of smart grid technology, Domijan said the USF project will be a fully integrated system of renewable energy sources, advanced sensors, communication and control technologies and two-way communication between utilities and customers while producing a more reliable and higher-quality power system.


“The smart grid will help our customers make wise choices about how and when they use electricity and give Progress Energy more flexibility in meeting energy demands with new technologies and energy sources,” said John Masiello, director of Demand Side Management and Alternative Energy Strategy for Progress Energy Florida.


 “The renewable and other technologies will be combined effectively, resulting in an electric delivery system that is not only more efficient, but also more secure and reliable in the face of disasters and power failures.”


The project aims to demonstrate that gains can be made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing energy security and power quality said Arif Islam, deputy director of the Power Center for Utility Explorations.


Customers who are increasingly aware of the need to build sustainable communities are clamoring for an opportunity to play a role in energy management, Islam notes. A smart grid does that in ways individual technologies or individual modernizing elements of a system that a few communities are using – such as smart meters – alone cannot.


“Modern customers want to control it, they don’t just want the utilities to send them a bill,” Islam said. “They want to know in advance how much they are going to spend; they want to see their carbon footprint. It’s a way of empowering customers by providing them with the latest technology and providing them opportunities to make a choice before they consume energy.”


Among the more novel approaches in the smart grid will be the participation of Florida grocery giant, Publix, which will take on the role of an energy supplier as well as consumer by contributing biodiesel energy into the grid.  Not only could a grocery store produce energy with its own biodiesel system, but in the event of a hurricane when power is knocked out a grocery store could power its refrigeration, food storage and pharmacy to minimize the storm’s impact on a community, Islam said.


For now, efforts to produce sustainable energy have found it is easier to generate energy than to get it flowing into the power grid. The development of smart grids such as the USF-Progress Energy Florida will get communities over that crucial hurdle, planners said.


“The smart grid investment aids all three of Progress Energy’s balanced solution focus areas: energy efficiency, renewables and state-of-the-art power plants,” Masiello said. “Working with USF, Progress Energy is taking steps now to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is in place to accommodate the technologies we know we will encounter – more distributed generation sites, customer demand management programs and energy storage – and is agile enough to handle other technological advances that we cannot yet perceive.”


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.