The electronic contraption, only in its first generation, was named this year by experts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as one of the 10 most important technology innovations of 2010. MIT ranked the "smart transformer," created by the FREEDM Systems Center in Raleigh, alongside recent advances in cancer genomics and synthetic cells.
The digital transformer will form the electronic guts of the vaunted Smart Grid, the automated power network that is expected to replace the nation's aging mechanical power grid in the coming decade. Relying on semiconductors rather than brainless mechanisms, the device controls energy flow in both directions, managing interconnections with solar-powered rooftops and plug-in electric cars, while minimizing energy waste.
"Think of it as an Internet router for the electrical grid," said Stephen Cass, special projects editor at MIT's Technology Review. "This contribution fits into that transformational ideal in that it will enable other changes."
The solid state transformer is one of several dozen Smart Grid-related projects under way at the 3-year-old FREEDM Center, which is headquartered at N.C. State University and coordinates research among five U.S. universities. The acronym stands for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management, a research consortium formed in 2008 with an $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The rising profile of the FREEDM Center is a major reason why the Triangle has come to be regarded as a national Smart Grid hub. But there also are nearly 60 local companies involved in developing software, components, utility meters or some other aspect of the smart electricity network.
NCSU takes leading role in developing Smart Grid (The News & Observer - Raleigh, June 20)