ASU NEWS–Over the past decade, Appalachian State University has amassed one of the largest and the most diverse portfolio of renewable energy facilities in the state of North Carolina. The university is home to the state's largest wind turbine and leader of the Appalachian Energy Summit – an initiative that has saved the University of North Carolina system, together with industry partners, close to $500 million in avoided energy costs over the past six years.
And now, with Research Opportunities Initiative (ROI) funding from the University of North Carolina General Administration, Appalachian will be able to leverage its university-owned electric utility, New River Light and Power (NRLP), as an unprecedented UNC system asset to provide a collaborative platform for conducting energy-related research. NRLP's service area of approximately seven square miles includes both the university campus and the Town of Boone, with a customer base of around 8,100.
"We are in the unique position to offer the entire UNC system access to a utility-based laboratory, and to further the potential for important research that will benefit the state and beyond," Chancellor Sheri N. Everts said. "We are proud to be leaders in the state for energy conservation, as this is a natural next step in our commitment to sustainability."
Under the leadership of Dr. Jeff Ramsdell, professor of sustainable technology and the built environment and director of the Appalachian Energy Center, and in close collaboration with UNC Charlotte, Appalachian will use the planning grant of nearly $50,000 to launch the North Carolina Integrated Electric Utility Research Laboratory (NCIEURlab).
In collaboration with Co-principal Investigator Dr. David T. Young, interim director of the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC Charlotte, the grant funds will be used to develop methodologies for managing the research platform, engage targeted funding sponsors and host a UNC system-wide workshop.
The first order of business, Ramsdell said, is "to develop the various policies, procedures and administrative and management processes necessary to ensure the integrity of the laboratory's activities, adequate protection of NRLP's interests, and fulfillment of all regulatory requirements."
According to the grant proposal, NCIEURlab will "provide an unprecedented opportunity to integrate diverse research areas including high-voltage electricity distribution, distributed generation, advanced metering, smart-grid concepts, consumer behavior, rate design and policy."
NRLP General Manager Ed Miller said, "This collaboration with EPIC and the other state institutions will benefit our research efforts around sustainability and climate concerns and will help us look at effective ways to transform the utility industry."
Ramsdell concurred. "Access to a utility that is large enough and operating under regulation provides us with a special opportunity for discovery," he said. "And, the ability to ultimately disseminate knowledge and broaden the education of our students." He pointed out the utility offers three specific opportunities:
- Access to the grid and the ability to install quantification and measurement equipment and instruments onto an operating electric power system;
- Access to non-identifiable customer data from NRLP;
- Behavioral studies related to utility customers. For example, Ramsdell said, with further funding researchers might ask customers to volunteer to have equipment that monitors daily power usage installed in their homes. Behavioral research could determine if monitoring use changes behavior patterns. Ramsdell stressed all customer privacy would be protected.
Working with Ramsdell and Young are Appalachian co-principal investigators Dr. Todd Cherry, director of the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis and a professor in the Department of Economics; Dr. Brian Raichle, professor and chair, Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment; Research Analyst Jason Hoyle, Appalachian Energy Center; and Miller from NRLP.
Once policies and processes are in place, Ramsdell hopes to offer an online vetting process for specific research projects. This would enable approved researchers to then apply for external grants with the added resource of the NCIEURlab. "This will advance the work we started with the Appalachian Energy Summit," Ramsdell said. "The possibilities are enormous and they don't exist anywhere else. This goes beyond collaboration. We are creating a resource for the whole system."
Ramsdell added he was particularly proud of Appalachian's leadership for green-lighting the project. "They could have balked," he said. "But they didn't. They let us put this idea forward. It is generous and visionary."