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Unleashing solar energy's full power

Carol Croft Linde Faculty Scholar Dennice Gayme, assistant professor, mechanical engineering
Posted August 15, 2017

As the new Carol Croft Linde Faculty Scholar, Dennice Gayme knows exactly what she is going to do with the unrestricted funds: take big risks. "This gives me the opportunity to take research that is not yet at a point where it can attract government funding and work to explore and establish its potential," Gayme explains.

Gayme's work focuses on how to integrate renewable energy — solar and wind, for example — into the power system. The substantial funding provided by the Croft Scholar award will seed critical new avenues in the work of her lab, the Networked and Spatially Distributed Systems Research Group, which studies efficiency in complex systems like the electric power grid. These large interconnected networks traditionally transmit power from large generating stations to small local areas, where distribution systems move energy downstream to houses, factories, and other end-users. Solar energy literally changes the flow direction, creating a "backflow" of energy to the grid.

"This problem is part of the growing complexity we are seeing in engineered systems and through interactions between engineered and natural systems," says Gayme, who earned a prestigious National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award in 2017 for her research in efficiency in systems affected by turbulent flows.

The Croft Scholar award will fuel Gayme's efforts to create a more resilient power system that better integrates these energy sources. Her questions include: What type of technology is needed? Who is going to operate it? What are the sociopolitical and socioeconomic implications of being able to generate energy from new sources?

"These 'what ifs' have the potential for big payoffs," she says.

To learn more about the Croft Fellows or to make a gift to support Whiting School faculty, please contact Megan Howie, associate dean for external relations.