Ben McCamish (graduate student of computer science), Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez (assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering) and Ziwei Ke (graduate student of electrical and computer engineering) demonstrate the synchophaser installed in Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility at Oregon State. 
A diverse team of researchers spanning computer science and electrical and computer engineering are working on a new energy test bed at Oregon State University. The test bed will help researchers gain a better understanding of the local electric grid and give students an opportunity to work with cutting-edge sensor technology.The Bonneville Power Administration awarded a $350,000 grant to develop a system that will provide a detailed analysis of load composition and power use. The project should help accommodate new types of load demands and new sources of renewable energy, such as wind and wave energy, while averting blackouts.
“The research project is a simple, elegant idea but also uses state of the art technology, and we are gaining knowledge about the grid that we didn’t have before,” said Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, an Oregon State assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and lead investigator.
The sensors, called phasor measurement units (PMU) or “synchrophasors,” can take voltage and current measurements 60 times a second, compared to standard sensors that take measurements every two to four seconds. All data will be time stamped and synchronized with a common clock, allowing researchers to track electrical spikes and other anomalies throughout the grid. A better understanding of these anomalies could eventually lead to a smart grid to automatically detect blackout warning signs and disconnect portions of the grid to protect critical loads.
“These synchrophasors will allow us to develop better load models,” Cotilla-Sanchez said. “Currently, our cascading power outage analysis assumes the campus load to be like a giant toaster — a big resistor that doesn’t change over time — but reality is much more complex, and we won’t be able to have accurate models until we have a better understanding of the load composition and time-varying demands.” 
Three of the synchrophasors have already been installed, and a total of seven will measure a variety of load types. The campus locations for the sensors include the Energy Center, the Salmon Disease Lab, Snell Hall, the photovoltaic array on Campus Way, and the Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility. Two off-campus locations include one in Albany at a platinum foundry, and another near Newport at the future wave energy testing center.
Aside from the research benefits, the project will allow Oregon State students to learn about the advanced technology. Graduate students involved in the installation and management of the system are getting hands-on experiences with all the steps in the chain, from connecting the current transformer to data management and machine learning, incorporating both electrical engineering and computer science.
“Our students will really have an advantage by being exposed to this technology and having the opportunity to work directly with the local utility companies,” Cotilla-Sanchez said.
Ziwei Ke, a master’s student in electrical and computer engineering, works on the hardware side of the project including installation and testing of the sensors. In addition to getting real-world experience with power electronics, he said the project has helped him learn about how to work as part of a team which will be valuable to him as he enters industry after graduation.
Ben McCamish, a doctoral student in computer science, also values the teamwork aspect of the project and in particular the melding of electrical engineering and computer science. Although his role on the project is primarily data analysis he also crosses over into the electrical engineering side and helps with the installation of the sensors.
“Although my plan is to stay in academia, it's interesting to interact with BPA and find out what their priorities are. I’ve learned to really listen to people to try to make sure everyone gets what they want out of the project,” McCamish said.
In addition to BPA, the project involves collaborators from the local utilities (Consumers Power and Central Lincoln PUD), OSU Facilities Services, OSU Information Services, and the College of Engineering information technology department.
“I'm very excited, not just for the research, but also that we have so many people from diverse groups working together,” said Cotilla-Sanchez. “It took a lot of work from everyone — students, faculty, staff and industry collaborators. So, once the infrastructure is in place we plan to keep using it to solve other problems.”