Dan Hixson, University of Utah College of Engineering
Masood Parvania, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah, has received a $2 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to build a new laboratory and develop technology that would help communities get their power back online faster in the wake of a natural disaster or cyberattack.

SALT LAKE CITY — Masood Parvania, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah, has been awarded a three-year, $2 million grant to build a lab, and research and test technology for microgrids — smaller, more localized versions of a city’s power grid that could provide backup electricity in a catastrophic situation.

When a natural disaster hits, much of a city’s power grid that receives electricity from sources such as thermal and hydroelectric plants, can go dark.

According to Parvania, microgrids are power systems in smaller areas of a city that operate autonomously from the main grid and get electricity from sources like solar panels or energy storage devices.

They can provide emergency power to neighborhoods and essential services such as hospitals until the main system is restored. Microgrids can be as small as a building or military base that uses backup generators, or a large neighborhood that uses wind turbines or geothermal generation. Microgrids, for example, are now being created all over Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria, in the event of future massive power outages.

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Parvania and his team at the Utah Smart Energy Lab will develop controllers that act as the computerized brains of a microgrid and determine how to best distribute electrical power in an area. The aim is to make the controllers faster, smarter and more secure from cyberattacks.

Parvania’s lab will consist of software and specialized computers called “real-time digital simulators” that will simulate a power system.

Another component of the research grant involves commercializing any technology that Parvania’s team develops. The U. is partnering with the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, the Governor's Office of Energy Development, the Idaho National Lab, and the U.’s Office of Technology and Venture Commercialization.