Texas Tech University

Reimagining the Grid with World-Class Facilities

Allen Ramsey

November 7, 2023

A Texas Tech professor is working to create a paradigm shift in powering the world.

In Texas, fixing the grid and making it more stable is a primary concern following instances of instability and failure. 

How best to do that remains a question, but it's one Texas Tech University's Beibei Ren is working to find an answer to. 

Ren, the Larry and Nancy McVay Endowed Professor in Engineering, is part of a collaborative group from multiple universities recently awarded more than $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation for a project titled “Online Stability Assessment, Flexibility, and Enhancement of IBR-dominated Power Systems.”

Beibei Ren
Beibei Ren

For Ren, the project represents a chance to help create a paradigm shift for power grids by creating microgrids with the ability to work with all available power sources. Those sources include conventional power plants and newly added distributed energy resources (DERs) often referred to as inverter-based resources (IBRs). 

“We want to bridge the gap between theory, simulations and real-world applications,” Ren explained. “We want to show them to be useful in real scenarios. That's why we've developed our platforms at different scales for both research validation and workforce training.”

Ren leads the Dynamic Intelligent Systems, Control and Optimization (DISCO) group, which has created scalable platforms using virtual synchronous machines (VSM) to control portable converter microgrids. 

VSMs are new technologies to control DERs like batteries, solar farms and wind farms, allowing them to behave as conventional synchronous machines to provide electric power in the traditional grid. 

“These facilities are unique because they are reconfigurable at a system level and at a device level,” Ren said. “At a system level, we can start with a single-home microgrid and several neighbors with a microgrid can connect as a community microgrid as well.”

To verify the ability of the microgrids to work individually or within a system, Ren and the DISCO group built modules for a single microgrid, what she termed a “SYNDEM system” with eight converters working together, and a larger SYNDEM system with 12 modules and a substation module, consisting of 108 converters. 

108 Node System
108 Node System

Because each of the modules is built from the ground up, they can be wired to connect with various power sources like solar or wind. The design allows for controlling the power output so it doesn't overwhelm an inverter or battery if too much is generated. 

“At a system level or device level the microgrids can be reconfigured based on the needs,” Ren explained. “We do everything from scratch and it's open source and reprogrammable.”

Building the systems in her laboratory has another huge benefit. 

“We can validate our research results right on this SYNDEM system both at the system level and the device level,” she said, explaining that the auto code generation feature has been built into the microgrids. “We can do simulations and can download the simulation code directly to the hardware for experimental validation. That can save time for debugging codes and improve the efficiency for researchers.”