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Tech’s $10M Dollar Grant Will Focus On Expanded Smart Grid Technology

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Tech’s $10M Dollar Grant Will Focus On Expanded Smart Grid Technology

Tennessee Tech researchers will study the potential of large-scale battery backups to deal with grid issues like last Christmas’ power blackouts through a new grant.

The $10 million grant announced Monday is the largest in school history. Michael Aikens is Tech’s Director of Tech Center for Rural Innovation, the organization that will manage the partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission. Aikens said the hope is to develop smart grid technology across the Upper Cumberland that will supplement the area’s electrical grid during times of peak power demand.

“Let’s say that there is a large demand one evening on the electrical grid,” Aikens said. “If you’ve got a large-scale battery, you have extra energy stored up so that when you start to have those demands, you can turn the battery on and you can reduce those peak demands.”

In partnership with MIT, Tech researchers hope to build a technology that will allow electric utilities to identify where, when, and how to deploy the battery packs across the community when surges hit. Aikens said the goal is to keep these smart grid technologies American-made.

While most source materials for these battery packs are controlled by United States adversaries, Tech researchers are supporting small businesses that are creating the packs from materials found right here in Appalachia, Aikens said.

“That might be ethane or iron or other materials, and we can get those right here in Appalachia, and we can create real jobs for real Americans here in Appalachia, and we can reduce our independence on these materials that are controlled by adversaries to the United States,” Aikens said.

Once installed, the stress put on the current power grid during extreme power needs could be something that utilities can control. Aikens said smart grid could prevent rolling blackouts like the ones that took place in the winter of 2022.

“Think about a battery that you have in your phone or think about batteries that you put in your remote control,” Akiens said. “It is the same idea but these are extremely large batteries. What this does is, electric utilities are beginning to install these large-scale battery packs to mitigate those demands.”

Aikens said the power grid’s ability to lean on the use of these battery packs when needed may also lead to decreased costs for electrical utilities that can be passed down to customers in the form of energy rebates or lower electrical rates.


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