Moving Toward a More Sustainable Power Grid

Researcher Awarded NSF Grants for Revolutionary Idea



By Marcia Faye
Moving Toward a More Sustainable Power Grid

Qing-Chang Zhong, Max McGraw Endowed Chair of Energy and Power Engineering and Management, has received two grants totaling $638,809 from the National Science Foundation to work on a paradigm-shifting idea in sustainable power systems.

“We can make the future power grid more stable and more sustainable by operating power electronic converters, which interface renewables, storage systems, and flexible loads with the grid as virtual synchronous machines,” says Zhong, from his office in Illinois Tech’s Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research. “I expect that my idea for a synchronized and democratized power grid could be adopted worldwide.” 

Zhong founded the startup SYNDEM—short for his “synchronized and democratized” approach to smart grid integration. He says that power systems are moving toward a decentralized democratic future and posits that power systems should not only be democratized technically—but also that all power system players need to synchronize their actions toward the common goal of stability of frequency and voltage, a harmonious outcome. “Analogous to MODEM, which solved the compatibility problem of computers with the telephone network, SYNDEM is set to solve the compatibility problem of renewables, storage systems, electric vehicles, and flexible loads with the power network,” Zhong explains.

As more nonsynchronous alternative energy resources are added to the current grid system, which will become increasingly unstable over the coming decades, Zhong’s idea for a stable decentralized system is especially critical. The NSF project aims to solidify the theoretical foundation for a stable future power system by developing fundamental systems theory and control algorithms. The success of the project will speed up the large-scale utilization of renewable energy; improve the stability, reliability, and resiliency of future power systems; promote energy independence and sustainability; bring job opportunities and economic growth; and facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy.