Cleveland Foundation awards CWRU $1.75 million to advance energy research

The Cleveland Foundation this week recognized Case Western Reserve University’s growing efforts in energy with a $1.75 million grant to advance research and bring breakthroughs to market.

The award marked the foundation’s second major investment in the university’s energy programs over the past four years. In late 2007, the Cleveland Foundation committed $3.6 million to support the university’s then-nascent efforts in the field; those dollars catalyzed progress in campus education, community outreach, and scientific projects. The new grant will enable several existing programs to continue, and also support recruitment of a senior professor with expertise in power grid technology.

“The Cleveland Foundation’s initial grant helped catapult the university forward as a leader in this field,” said Jeffrey L. Duerk, dean of the Case School of Engineering. “This additional funding will allow us to accelerate our already significant momentum. We are deeply grateful for the foundation’s ongoing engagement and support.”

Since 2007, the school’s Great Lakes Energy Institute has offered a venue for faculty to explore opportunities for collaboration in areas as diverse as wind energy, solar panels and energy storage. The institute also has convened gatherings of Northeast Ohio community and industry leaders eager to nurture alternative energy initiatives. Case Western Reserve has received major grant support for energy research from the state’s Third Frontier program, and more recently secured federal dollars to enhance undergraduate education in the discipline.

In 2008, the Maltz Family Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland awarded the university $2 million to endow the university’s first endowed chair in energy. Mario Garcia-Sanz, a scholar of turbine innovation and energy control technology, has held the Milton and Tamar Maltz Professorship in Energy Innovation since 2009.

With a robust portfolio of research in energy capture, the university now wants to grow its expertise in the transmission and delivery of power. Much like the nation’s transportation infrastructure of highways and bridges, the nation’s existing energy grid requires significant updates to manage new technologies and consumer needs.

“In essence, the grid is our energy superhighway. It needs updates to make it more flexible, reliable, secure, and efficient,” Duerk explained. “The foundation’s grant will allow us to add a scholar who will contribute key insights into how our nation can best realize those goals.”

The grid is a network of power generators, transformers and electrical lines that supplies electricity to homes and businesses. The existing grid first developed in the 1920s and has seen few meaningful enhancements since the 1970s. Outdated management systems cannot easily accommodate intermittent production of electricity from solar panels and concentrators or wind turbines.

More sensitive sensors, two-way communications, and new control, management and security technologies are needed to get the most out of old and new sources of electricity. These improvements would enable power companies to increase efficiencies, protect against cascading power outages and cyber threats.