Improving Sustainable Energy Technologies

Wind turbines and solar panels may be the public faces of alternative energy, but engineers working behind the scenes are developing less celebrated technologies to enable widespread green energy use.

From smarter power grids to remote-controlled turbine condition monitoring systems, UNL electrical engineer Wei Qiao’s research aims to make alternative energy more efficient, reliable and cost effective.

Maintaining the reliability and security of the nation’s complex power network requires a balance between power generation and use. Unlike today’s primary energy sources of coal and oil, alternative power sources such as wind and solar are intermittent and harder to control.

To optimize use of these sustainable sources, Qiao is developing computer models and optimization and control tools to help create the next-generation power grid. A smarter power grid will improve the system’s stability, reliability and economic efficiency. He’s also working on ways to store excess energy for future use, which would greatly improve the power grid’s energy efficiency and reduce the risk of power failures. Qiao received a $399,999 National Science Foundation CAREER Program award, which supports outstanding pre-tenure faculty, for this research.

He’s also developing remote wind turbine monitoring systems to improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs. Workers now must travel to remote areas and scale the turbines to monitor components. Existing monitoring technologies require additional sensors and expensive equipment that sometimes contribute to turbine system failures.

Qiao is using signal-processing techniques to develop methods that use wind turbine electrical signals to remotely monitor the turbine’s condition and quickly detect problems. A two-year, $380,398 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act supports this research.

"Nebraska and adjacent states are among the top states in the nation with wind energy resources," Qiao said. Results of his green energy research should help the region capitalize on this potential.

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Associated Web Content

UNL news release: Qiao CAREER award

Improving wind turbine reliability news story


The 2009-2010 Annual Report is published by the
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