Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) and GE Digital have opened a new cutting-edge Microgrid Control Lab at the University of Central Florida (UCF). The lab will serve as a state-of-the-art research facility and control room for engineering faculty and students. FPL and GE Digital are co-sponsoring the lab at UCF, which will feature control center equipment and software that students will use to simulate and test real-life grid control operations, including finding ways to optimize and keep the grid of the future secure.
“The Microgrid Control Lab provides unprecedented access to a modern grid control center that enables some of the brightest young minds in the country to collaborate, learn and help reimagine the energy grid of tomorrow,” said Jim Walsh, General Manager of GE Digital’s Grid Software business. “As renewable energy sources, like solar, continue to expand and evolve, the technology behind the grid has to keep up. It is critical that electrical and computer engineering talent have real-life experiences with the hardware and software than underpins the modern grid helping utilities securely deliver reliable clean energy.”
At the lab opening ceremony, leaders from the three organizations participated in a panel discussion focused on the engineering roles available to recent graduates in the energy sector and discussed opportunities for full-time employment. FPL and GE Digital together have approximately 400 UCF alumni in their workforces.
GE Digital also announced a new internship program that invests in the development of its team and future grid engineering leaders. The program will offer UCF students an intensive experience in the utilities and power sectors and help students develop analytical and software development skills using emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Currently, more than 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students at UCF are studying electrical or computer engineering – disciplines that support energy systems and electricity grids. Another 500-plus UCF students have indicated they plan to pursue an electrical or computer engineering major once prerequisite coursework is completed.
UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science offers a power and renewable energy track as part of its undergraduate programs. In addition, a graduate certificate is offered in sustainable and resilient energy systems. Through a faculty collaboration called RISES (Resilient, Intelligent and Sustainable Energy Systems) UCF researchers across multiple disciplines are working to develop sustainable and resilient energy systems and storage.
“This new facility is exactly the kind of strategic partnership that makes UCF a premiere choice for students with future-focused career goals. GE Digital and FPL have been both philanthropic investors and design collaborators in this lab, ensuring our students in this field will be industry-ready on day one of their careers,” UCF President Alexander Cartwright said. “It’s a win-win. Our students get a leading education in a lab environment, and both companies open up a pipeline of incredible talent for their workforce.”
The lab at UCF is designed to simulate the control center of a microgrid, a type of self-sufficient energy system that incorporates solar or other renewable energy sources and battery storage to power a small-scale area, independent of a large-scale grid.
“We are excited to bring this innovative research space to UCF engineering students,” said Ed De Varona, FPL’s Vice President of Transmission & Substation. “The lab is a terrific training ground for rising engineers to work directly with the latest technologies and help refine and innovate the way energy is transmitted and distributed across the grid now and in the future.”
The lab aims at safe, reliable, efficient and secure operation of large-scale distribution networks with extremely high penetration of renewables, a growing area in the energy industry. Through collaborating with industry and utility partners, UCF continues to offer students real-world opportunities as they prepare to go into careers that are shaping the future.