Electric Power Research Institute Funds GRAPES SiC Project

August 15, 2017 by Paul Shepard

The National Science Foundation's Center for GRid-connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems (GRAPES) in the College of Engineering's Department of Electrical Engineering will work on a tailored collaboration project funded by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which has dedicated funds of just over $175,000.

Southern Company and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation are tailoring part of the EPRI funding towards this project. The project, titled "Medium-Voltage Static Compensators for Distribution Systems" will be directed by Juan Carlos Balda, director of the GRAPES center.

The objective of this project is to develop a prototype of unbalanced-current static compensators (UCSC) using silicon carbide (SiC) devices for direct connection to medium-voltage (MV) distribution systems, without the use of step-up transformers.

This prototype will be a custom power equipment, a design that has proven to have better performance capabilities for minimizing the effects of unbalanced currents in distribution systems than traditional solutions.

In a previous research project performed at the NSF Industry/University Collaborative Research Center GRAPES, a silicon-based 480-V UCSC connecting to a MV distribution feeder using distribution transformers was developed. The utility feedback stemming from the development of that prototype indicated preference for a medium-voltage, unbalanced-current static system that connects to distribution systems without requiring step-up transformers.

Professor Juan Carlos Balda serves as the UA site director for the GRid-connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems and is the principal investigator in the funded project.

The project will also take advantage of recent developments in SiC MV devices over Si MV devices, enabling simpler solutions representing "plug-and-play" custom power systems. These unbalanced-current static compensators can then be used like shunt capacitor banks in distribution systems, significantly improving voltage stability, power transmission capability, and power flow control.

Custom power equipment based on power electronics, such as the proposed prototype, will become more relevant in future electric power distribution systems because of their benefits in producing balanced operating conditions and controlling bidirectional power flows.

Balda is a University Professor and head of the Department of Electrical Engineering, and he holds the Twenty-First Century Leadership Chair in Engineering.