The Spark That Shines

By Scott Lewis

Transformative Technology Grows Ever Brighter

The Spark That Shines

With the rollout of its campus-wide microgrid in 2009, Illinois Tech sparked a new approach to keeping the lights on. In the years since, the dividends from this first-in-the-nation project have rolled in.

Led by Mohammad Shahidehpour, director of the Robert W. Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation and associate director of Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research (WISER), the microgrid integrates a high-reliability distribution system, smart metering, and renewable energy sources to boost overall efficiency, demand response, and resiliency. If necessary, the system can disconnect from the broader power grid, making the campus self-sufficient during emergencies. Thanks to a variety of efficiencies created by the microgrid, the university has saved about $1 million a year.

While many of the initiative’s technological innovations are embedded in the power distribution system and largely out of sight, other fruits of the project have sprouted up across campus for all to see, such as solar panels, wind turbines, LED street lights, and charging stations for electric vehicles.

At the decade mark, the Illinois Tech Microgrid continues to set the pace in transforming the electric grid by developing a model of reliability, efficiency, and conservation to be replicated in cities and towns—and university campuses—worldwide.