Resnick Institute

Distribution of Energy

Power at night


The electric system has been acknowledged as the most complex machine on the face of the earth. Yet, it must undergo massive changes to become more dynamic and “smarter,” in order to cope with the rapid advances in intermittent renewable energy generation (such as solar and wind), vehicle electrification, and adaptive demand.

The future grid needs to be able to adapt to volatility of supply while delivering the same level of service it does now. The challenge of uncertainty is coupled with economic and behavioral challenges linked to shifting the grid from a centralized model, with few active points of generation, to a distributed model allowing for millions of active endpoints.

Caltech’s Professors Mani Chandy, Steven Low, Adam Wierman and John Doyle are leading the charge in addressing the engineering and architectural challenges presented by the future grid. Professor Chandy describes what is needed as a “system of systems with the ability to adapt to future changes” and the Caltech smart grid team is addressing this through computational modeling and the design of new algorithms.

Working with the team, former Resnick Fellow Masoud Farivar researched the development of distributed controls to expand the grid’s capacity for solar energy. He developed a power saving, scalable control algorithm to cope with the fluctuations that occur in power networks with a high penetration of solar energy. His simulations have shown over a 3% increase in grid efficiency, which amounts to significant energy savings and expanded capacity for the integration of intermittent renewables.

The grid’s economic and policy challenges are also being addressed. On the economic front, Professor John Ledyard examines the control factors of distributed markets. And on the policy front, in 2012 the Resnick Sustainability Institute issued the report: “Grid 2020: Towards a Policy of Renewable and Distributed Energy Resources.” The report was co-authored by Resnick Institute Visiting Scholar Paul De Martini and focused on the issues that clean energy policy poses to the design and operation of the current grid.

The informative Grid 2020 Discussion Series grew out of the report and was covered by Intelligent Utility Magazine. In tandem with the discussion series, several invitation only working sessions were held in collaboaration with the Greentech Leadership Group. This led to the 2014 joint publication of More Than Smart: A Framework to Make the Distribution Grid More Open, Efficient and Resilient. The "More than Smart" working group's 2014-2015 discussion overview notes are available here: