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New Lab for Power Engineers
April 1, 2015   
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A new laboratory under construction at the Gdańsk University of Technology in northern Poland will help engineers design and test cutting-edge equipment for the power industry, including installations used in wind farms and solar as well as nuclear power plants.

The new lab is being developed as part of a project called Innovative Technology Laboratory for Power Engineering and Renewable Energy Sources—Linte^2, financed under the European Union’s Innovative Economy Operational Programme. The project manager is JanuszNieznański, D.Sc., and work on Linte^2 is being coordinated by Andrzej Augusiak, D.Sc.

When the Linte^2 lab opens, engineers will be able to test new devices in electrical grids without having to shut off the entire infrastructure used to produce, transmit and distribute electricity. Technology available at the lab will enable inventors to make sure that the new equipment does not interfere with other devices in electrical grids or lead to power grid overloads.

The laboratory is located at the Gdańsk University of Technology campus. Several months ago, a 33-kilowatt solar power plant was launched on the roof of the building housing the lab. Researchers are also preparing to launch several power generators similar to those used in modern wind farms and thermal power stations, including a 65 kW natural gas microturbine generator. Other equipment currently being installed at the Linte^2 lab will be used to test electrical grids and power systems. The equipment includes devices for the short-term storage of electricity, including battery arrays and high-performance capacitors.

Linte^2 lab users will be able to use a set of charging points to test the consumption of power delivered to households, industry and businesses. A special role among these devices will be played by charging stations for electric cars. Five such stations are currently at work at Linte^2.

So far, neither researchers nor industry have been able to conduct tests in operating power plants. In real life, power plants and grids cannot be just switched off and used for research purposes. Some appliances at power plants go off line only during system failures or scheduled renovation procedures. Power plants are mainly located in southern Poland, while transmission lines run throughout the country delivering electricity to scattered end users. A laboratory where different configurations of such components can be modeled in a single location is a first for Poland. In order to conduct research approximating real-life conditions, scientists need small physical models.

The Linte^2 lab is still in the start-up phase, but the fields of research that will be pursued there and the kinds of technology that will be deployed have already been identified. For example, businesses will be able to use the lab to test prototype power generation devices before putting them on the market. They will bring their prototypes to Linte^2 and connect them to the lab’s research installations. Normally, new technology undergoes the ultimate test when it is deployed in a real-life system. Checking how a new generator performs in an actual power plant is a difficult thing to do, and the same goes for testing the generator’s impact on other devices in a larger system. Thanks to Linte^2, all of this will be possible. Producers of innovative photovoltaic panels wanting to conduct comprehensive tests on their inventions will be able to set up a prototype installation on the lab’s roof, according to Augusiak. “Importantly, new devices and installations will be tested in configurations identical to those of the power plants for which they have actually been designed,” Augusiak says.

Under Poland’s regulations on renewable energy, consumers producing electricity for their own use will be able to connect their home power installations to public power grids and sell whatever surplus energy they produce to power companies. Electricity at most such “prosumer” (producer-consumer) installations will be generated by wind turbines and solar panels. The question is how a large number of such private installations will affect power grids and the country’s power production system as a whole. Meanwhile, a lot of new equipment will soon become available to prosumers and much of this equipment will have to be certified and undergo compatibility tests. Linte^2 is where some of these tests can be conducted.

The new lab will be also used for nuclear power research. The Gdańsk University of Technology has for several years been trying to launch a nuclear power plant simulator. If the university’s efforts succeed, researchers at Linte^2 will use the simulator to study interactions between a nuclear power plant and power grids, including the impact a nuclear power plant could have on devices working within the system.

The Linte^2 lab and other similar projects at universities are an example of a business model that is only starting to emerge in Poland. Universities, including the Gdańsk University of Technology, are working to ensure the commercial use of their research results. The Linte^2 lab has been designed specifically to enable research teams to focus on research and development rather than academic pursuits. The lab is intended for use by the business sector to benefit the economy.

The Linte^2 project has received zl.44 million in co-financing from the National Center for Research and Development. Of this, zl.10 million has gone to finance the construction of the lab building. The research equipment and installations have cost around zl.30 million, and the rest are management, promotion and related costs. Maintenance costs will not be high for the Gdańsk University of Technology, as most of the tab will be picked up by enterprises coming to Linte^2 to conduct research either on their own or together with local researchers.

Linte^2 will have enough room for 10 independent research groups to work in the lab at a time. Thanks to a special control and communication system, experiments will be conducted remotely from a control room. Importantly, the lab will be accessible to outside users, which means that if a group of researchers is unable to come to Gdańsk, they will be able to do their work remotely via the internet. This arrangement should help attract research teams from Western Europe as well, according to Augusiak. “Our contacts so far indicate this will indeed be the case,” Augusiak says.

Before Linte^2 starts carrying out tasks commissioned by different businesses, it will deal with projects originating from the academic community. The plan is to accommodate as many projects as possible from enterprises so that researchers and businessmen can work together on new technology.

The Linte^2 lab fits into the development strategy of both the Gdańsk University of Technology and the entire region. The Pomerania region, of which Gdańsk is the largest city, has a shortage of conventional energy sources and needs to import most of the power it uses. Over the next decade or so, Pomerania’s power sector is expected to grow rapidly, largely owing to wind and nuclear power plants. These are expected to emerge as a result of close collaboration between science and business.

Karolina Olszewska
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