The Times West Virginian

September 16, 2012

NSF awards funding for energy research at WVU

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Funding from the National Science Foundation is moving three energy research projects forward at West Virginia University.

The NSF recently awarded a total of $831,086 in grants to some innovative proposals from WVU researchers. These initiatives are related to improving the energy grid and its efficiency and using energy in better ways.

A project called “The Technology, Energy, Economy and Environment (TEEE) Chain: Integrated Modeling for Technology Transition in Energy Rich Regions” received $335,930 from the NSF. Dr. Hodjat Ghadimi, the principal investigator, is an assistant professor in the WVU Division of Design and Merchandising and the Division of Resource Management and also a faculty research associate with the WVU Regional Research Institute.

The project has three co-principal investigators: Randy Jackson, director of the Regional Research Institute; Dr. Jerry Fletcher, director of the Division of Resource Management; and Dr. Wesley Burnett, assistant professor in the Division of Resource Management. One research assistant, who is a Ph.D. student at WVU, is also helping.

The team submitted its proposal earlier in the year and was awarded the grant on Aug. 15, Ghadimi said. He explained that this effort is part of WVU’s larger research project on energy-rich regions.

“These are regions that primarily depend on energy resources for their economic well-being,” Ghadimi said.

The NSF grant is for two years, which means the results will be available by 2014, he said. The group is using resources from the Regional Research Institute.

In this project, the team at WVU is trying to develop an integrated modeling framework to look at the complex interactions between technology change and environmental, energy and economic development related issues. They will compare two energy-rich regions, West Virginia and Shanxi Province in China, Ghadimi said.

He said West Virginia is a typical energy-rich region because it is very rich in coal and natural gas. Shanxi Province is very similar to West Virginia because it is also an energy-rich region that is primarily a coal producer in China.

The United States and China, which are two major economies, play an important role in the world’s energy and have a great impact on the environment, Ghadimi said.

Even though these are two energy-rich regions with many common characteristics, they are within two different economic structures, he said. The United States is very much a market-based economy, while China is a much more centrally planned economy.

“These two major economies of the world are really competing for dominance over this emerging so-called clean energy,” he said.

Ghadimi said the team will examine the intricacies of the changes in these economies and how the changes in technology affect energy and the environment. These factors have an impact on the economic well-being of a region in the long run and on developing sustainable clean energy.

“These energy resources are exhaustible,” he said. “They’re not going to last forever. So we have to be careful. The main (economic) problem in these energy-rich regions is really how to manage the economy for long-term sustainable economic development.”

It’s important not to sacrifice the well-being of future generations for this generation’s convenience, Ghadimi said.

The WVU team has started collecting and organizing the acquired data on both regions and set up a general framework, he said. West Virginia and Shanxi Province are just two cases, and they can also look at them in a broader context of the many energy-rich regions in the world.

An NSF grant in the amount of $172,655 went to a project titled “Collaborative Research: The Next-Generation Electricity Capacity and Transmission Expansion Model with Large-Scale Energy Storage and Renewable Resources.”

This effort involves two institutions. Dr. Qipeng Phil Zheng, assistant professor in WVU’s Department of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering, is the principal investigator at WVU, and his collaborator is Dr. Andrew Lu Liu, the principal investigator at Purdue University.

Although they officially kicked off the project on Aug. 15 after getting the grant, they started their research about a year ago, Zheng said.

He said the goal of this project, which will run until July 2015, is to try to offer “optimal solutions for long-term electricity infrastructure expansion under future uncertainties.” The team will work to provide some planning and decision-making tools for future electricity systems and expansion.

According to the project summary, the team will focus on ways to incorporate large-scale renewable energy and energy storage resources into the electricity grid, and in turn cut expenses and create a reliable system. Different kinds of modeling approaches will be used in order to build an appropriate framework for electricity systems.

Zheng said they will propose some mathematical algorithms to quickly solve the model.

“If the project is successful, it will provide planning authorities the most advanced electricity system modeling tools,” the summary says. “Through established industrial collaboration, the proposed work holds great potential to transform the current planning practice in the electricity sector, resulting in substantial savings to consumers, improved system reliability, and sustainable power systems. Such systems are expected to have a high penetration of renewable energy, energy storage and demand-side resources.”

WVU Ph.D. students Yi Fang, Yuping Huang and Denis Da Cruz Pinha and master’s students Daniel Simmons and Yeh-Ern Poh are involved in the work, Zheng said.

He said one of his students will present some work related to this research next month at a national conference. Also, the abstract for the project has already been accepted by a journal.

Zheng published a book called “Handbook of CO2 in Power Systems,” which went into print this May, that talks about the carbon footprint and is related to the NSF project. In addition, his research related to algorithms has been published and will help in developing the algorithms for the current project.

Zheng is also the co-principal investigator for another initiative that the NSF recently funded. Dr. Sarika Khushalani-Solanki is the principal investigator for this project, called “Grid Challenges for a Smart Transit System,” which was awarded $322,501 in August.

Khushalani-Solanki, assistant professor in WVU’s Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, explained that this research is about creating a Smart Transit System, which can operate in grid-connected mode as well as transit mode on fixed pathways. This system will be sustainable and fully automated.

The project summary states that “this project will develop the kinds of tools which will be needed to upgrade electric power distribution systems in general, in order to accommodate more electric transportation.

“The new unified system will benefit local consumers, who will be able to participate through demand response and on-demand sustainable transit, which saves them money both on electricity and on transit costs, while providing more convenience and flexibility.”

Khushalani-Solanki said some of the main challenges are controlling the climate of the system, determining when and how to charge the system, and integrating electric vehicles with renewable sources. These electric vehicles can support the grid by supplying some power back to it.

The project will also look at how the transportation demands will change the behavior of how the electric vehicles are charging or discharging when they are connected to the grid, she said.

“We need to coordinate between our transportation and the grid perspective,” Khushalani-Solanki said.

Since the project began in August, the team of four faculty members has held a couple of kickoff meetings, she said. The group includes two investigators with expertise in power systems, one with experience in industrial engineering, and another from civil engineering with a transportation background.

Khushalani-Solanki said they have been discussing how to best collaborate to achieve the objective for the project, defining some tasks to accomplish in order to move forward, and focusing on the budget.

“We already have some modeling for the distribution system,” she said.

Email Jessica Borders at or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.