Temporary blackouts across much of the eastern United States, caused by snowstorms and hurricanes, is renewing a team of Lehigh researchers' determination to develop technologies for tomorrow's energy infrastructure.

Drawing on "micro grids," essentially islands of power, and enabling elements of the grid to talk back and forth, are two parts of Lehigh researchers' larger vision for transforming the nation's electrical landscape to create what has become popularly known as the smart grid.

The development of smart-grid technologies requires input from computer science, mathematics, industrial systems engineering, electrical engineering and economics. To leverage the strengths of research in those areas, Lehigh established the Integrated Networks for Electricity (INE) cluster in 2011. Rick Blum, the director of the INE and the Robert W. Wieseman Professor in Electrical Engineering, says making the smart grid a reality requires the development of an "Enernet," a massive yet decentralized new system that will allow the easy, reliable and simultaneous flow of electricity, information and money.

"The core technologies that are needed to develop the smart grid include information technology, microelectronics and communication networking," says Blum. "These intersecting areas fit precisely with Lehigh's strengths and give us significant opportunities to collaborate with industry.

Communications and networking will also play a role in developing the smart grid. P.C. Rossin Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Shalinee Kishore, who is part of the INE cluster, is leveraging her expertise by studying several aspects of the smart grid. Her research group is designing communication and network protocols to facilitate smart grid objectives, such as demand response, load shaping, real-time flow measurements, and grid visualization.

This cluster will work closely with the Energy Systems Engineering Institute (ESEI) and the Energy Research Center, which study energy generation, distribution and consumption, and their environmental impact.

The ESEI is also contributing to advancing the smart grid by introducing new engineers into the workforce. ESEI Director Martha Dodge says the new professional masters of engineering degree in energy systems engineering is unique in that it produces engineers with both technical and economic perspectives who are prepared to work in a business environment.

In another innovation, the ESEI established the Keystone Smart Grid Fellowship through a Department of Energy grant. The program aims to attract K-12 and community college teachers who want to improve their understanding of the modern power industry and prepare their students for smart grid careers.

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