Affordable, clean, and secure energy is essential for improving economic productivity, enhancing the quality of life, and protecting the environment. How to expand renewable energy, efficiently store, convert, and transport energy and ensure the reliability and efficacy of an aging distribution infrastructure are among the myriad engineering challenges here. Advanced structural engineering with expertise on new materials and geometries is needed to develop taller wind turbine towers capable of accessing more stable winds, offshore structures that are subject to evolving loadings under climate change, and hazard-resilient energy distribution infrastructure.
The mechanics of energy materials require complex multi-physics models that can capture the performance of energy conversion, storage and harvesting applications in consumer electronics, automotive, aerospace and defense applications. With the United States becoming the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas, policy discussions have shifted away from worries about rising prices to concerns about the safety of energy infrastructure, debates about the ideal energy production mix, and the overriding question of what changes in patterns of energy supply and demand will be needed to meet the global climate change challenge.
Systems engineers recognize that energy infrastructure – including infrastructure for energy production, transmission, storage, and distribution – is challenged by transformations in energy supply, markets, and patterns of end use; issues of aging and capacity; and natural and human-made threats.
Departmental research activities contribute to improving energy systems and technologies at all of these scales, in order to contribute to an efficient, reliable, and sustainable future energy infrastructure.
- Greg Falco‘s research on AI-enhanced smart grids aims to understand how to infuse modern artificial intelligence techniques to smart grids to make them more resilient to natural hazards and cyberattacks. Additional work includes stress-tests of existing AI techniques to evaluate their robustness to serve energy providers.
- Greg Falco‘s research on renewable energy cybersecurity aims to identify real-time risk identification mechanisms for renewable energy infrastructure and establish non-invasive technology to manage their security.
- Lauren Gardner and Tak Igusa’s research on autonomous (self-driving) vehicles is focused on safety and other public health impacts, including the reduction of pollutants due to electrification, shared mobility, and efficient integration with public transportation.
- Ben Schafer’s research emphasizes the role of efficient large-scale structures in energy systems and infrastructure. Most recently, he has supported the development of higher hub height wind turbine towers, which can more efficiently harness wind and bring large-scale wind energy production closer to North American urban centers.
- Michael Shields’ research has long focused on the modeling, and recently focused on the experimental observation, of fluctuating stochastic wind and wave fields. These models/experiments are used to characterize loads and excitations on structures such as wind turbines and off-shore energy harvesters.
Re-imagining Renewable Energy
Read how the Ralph S. O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute (ROSEI), led by CaSE's Ben Schafer, is bringing technical researchers together with social scientists university-wide to create and implement scalable, renewable energy technologies.