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Dr. Huang develops smart transformers

Dr. Alex Huang, a professor of electrical engineering at North Carolina State University, is working to revitalize aging power grids. He is reinventing the transformer, which currently reduce the voltage of electricity allocated to neighborhoods so that it can be used in homes and offices. The development of this new transformer will make it easier for power grids to handle things it was never designed to, such as charging electric vehicles or drawing surplus energy from residential solar panels.  This is ultimately anticipated to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. According to Huang, “we need a radically new device to sit between homes and grid to provide a buffer, so that the grid will remain stable no matter what is going on in the homes.”  Currently, transformers require manual adjustment or large electromechanical switches and are only capable of handling alternating current (AC). Huang’s vision is to create an electronically controlled compact transformer capable of handling both alternating current and direct current (DC) that can be controlled electronically so that it can respond immediately to changes in supply and demand. He has initiated the development of transformers with semiconductors based on compounds composed of silicon and carbon or gallium and nitrogen, which are more dependable in high-power applications. Huang hopes to have a test version of the transformer ready in two years and a device capable of being tested by utilities ready in five years.


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