Iowa Board of Regents

Electric Power Research Center: Sixty Years

A black-painted electric motor and an industrial, olive-green generator, each about the size of a motorcycle engine, are bolted to a sturdy metal table in Iowa State University’s Advanced Energy Systems Lab.

Two men standing in front of electrical equipment.That’s a lab-scale wind turbine, said Luis Guillén Montenegro from Ecuador and Hoang Dang from Vietnam, two doctoral students in electrical and computer engineering, as they led a recent tour of the lab.

The small-scale turbine – when connected to the lab’s collection of controllers, emulators, inverters, converters, capacitors, sensors and cables, all the tools of power electronics – can validate computer simulations of power grid operations.

What happens when a storm blows through and the grid goes down? Can wind turbines help restore that grid? If that works, how can it be controlled? How to account for the variability of wind? And what happens to the process if lightning strikes a transmission line and causes a grid fault?

The lab and those questions are all part of Iowa State’s Electric Power Research Center (EPRC), now in its 60th year. The center is all about supporting research, connecting university researchers with industry engineers and launching students into electric power careers.

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