Mad Scientist Department: Lab-grown neurons to control the grid


By: SGN Staff


Quick Take: I forget who said it originally, but I heard Bill Gates plagiarize it many times: "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten."


If there's ever been a project that illustrates that idea, here it is. Scientists at Clemson are growing neurons in petri dishes with the goal of using them to control the smart grid. Never in my most optimistic moments did I think we might have factory-grown brains controlling the grid within the next 10 years. - Jesse Berst


A team of neuroscientists and engineers is using lab-grown neurons to control simulated power grids. "Neuroscience and Neural Networks for Engineering the Future Intelligent Electric Power Grid” is a joint project between the Clemson University (lead institution), Georgia Tech and Missouri S&T.


The goal is to make control systems more brain-like so they can carry out real-time control of complex systems. "To get the most out of the different types of renewable energy sources, we need an intelligent grid that can perform real-time dispatch and manage optimally available energy storage systems," says project leader Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy, Ph.D., director of the Real-Time Power and Intelligent Systems Laboratory at Clemson University.


"What we need is a system that can monitor, forecast, plan, learn, make decisions," says Venayagamoorthy as quoted in an article in Phys.Org. "Ultimately, what we need is a control system that is very brain-like." In the current project, the network is trained to recognize and respond to voltage and speed signals from a simulated power grid.


The article not only gives a quick overview of the project but also a review of the grid's challenges. The article quotes a Department of Energy claim that if the current grid were just 5 percent more efficient, the energy savings would be equal to removing 53 million cars from the road.


Perhaps that is the incentive that prompted the National Science Foundation to fund the program, which started in 2009 and wraps up in October 2013.


Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.

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