SALT LAKE CITY — When Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico last September, it left nearly all of the island’s 3.4 million residents without electricity. The U.S. territory has struggled ever since to restore power.
But University of Utah professor Masood Parvania wants to prevent that from ever happening again.
The computer engineer was awarded a $2 million grant by the U.S. Navy to construct a lab where he can research and test a new technology that will help protect power grids from both natural disasters and cyberattacks.
The new technology will be used for microgrids, which are smaller, localized versions of a city’s power grid. Microgrids operate separately from the main grid and get electricity from sources like solar panels or energy storage devices. They can provide backup power to neighborhoods, hospitals, campuses and even cities in the wake of an emergency.
Microgrids are currently being constructed in Puerto Rico, but Parvania and his team hope their technology will protect the grids from both Mother Nature — and mankind.
“Today, power grids are becoming more and more vulnerable with modernization and digitization,” Parvania said in an emailed statement. “These microgrid controllers will be faster and more accurate in returning power back to communities. But we also want to make sure that once they work, they are not affected by cyberattacks.”
Parvania and his team will be working to create microgrid controllers that determine how best to distribute electrical power in an area. The controllers are designed to be faster, smarter and more secure from cyberattacks — a new concern for power companies.
Parvania’s laboratory, which will be built on the U.’s College of Engineering campus, will house software and specialized computers called “real-time digital simulators” that can act as a power grid. The team will be able to experiment with the controllers on the pseudo-power grid and hope to eventually commercialize their work within two years.
“We are going to work with utilities, energy companies and military bases to see how we can commercialize our technology for the betterment of communities,” Parvania said. “We are (also) going to look to see how this could be utilized in military bases for naval or other military applications.”
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