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Electrical Energy

Fighter JetThe Lehigh Unniversity Engineering Advisory Board meets a few times per year and at least one of the meetings focuses on a strategic issue opportunity. The meeting held earlier this month was held in Washington, D.C. and focused on U.S. electrical energy generation, transmission, distribution, storage, and consumption. One of the EAB members is Judy Marks who is an executive at Lockheed Martin and she was kind enough to have her company host our meeting. On arrival night we were fortunate to hear a short lecture on the future of fighter jet aircraft at the Lockheed Fighter Jet Demonstration Center in Arlington. Even better was that each of us got to spend some time in F-22 and F-35 flight simulators
Lockheed Martin (with partner Boeing) F-22 Raptor is a single seat, twin-engine fifth-generation fighter aircraft that uses stealth technology. The simulator was dumbed down and many of the questions that EAB members asked of the fighter pilot who assisted us were appropriately sprinkled with “unclassified” answers. Even the unclassified specifications were mind-numbing. As a pilot I know a little bit about aviation but not much about military jets. The flying experience in the simulators was incredible. Pull back the stick and the F-22 goes up — straight up if you tell it to. At a cost of $143 million each it should be spectacular!
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is also a fifth-generation, single-seat, single-engine stealth fighter but additionally is “multi-role” — it can perform close air support, tactical bombing, and air defense missions. I flew in the simulator for the short take off and vertical-landing variant of the plane. In addition to the amazing flying capabilities it can land on an aircraft carrier vertically. As I was bringing it down, it adjusted itself to land right next to another F-35 that was on the carrier deck. The F-35 is intended to become a Joint Strike Fighter and deployed by numerous countries around the world. At a mere $83 million each it is much more affordable than the F-22! 

The meeting turned serious first thing in the morning — a deep dive by the Engineering Advisory Board along with leading experts from government, industry, and Lehigh faculty researchers in energy, advanced materials, and systems research.  The goals were to assess future needs in integrated energy systems, evaluate technical and intellectual niches at Lehigh relevant to these needs, and envision a bold developmental roadmap toward a world-class energy systems  research center. Lehigh has a lot of depth in key areas that are fundamental to energy systems and the brainstorming at this meeting was designed to trigger ideas to leverage the available  skills. When I was an electrical engineering student 40+ years ago there were two curricula options — power systems or electronics. The latter had a bit more glamour for many. Energy (power) systems may take the baton. 
It almost goes without saying how important and massive the global energy challenge is. Clearly it warrants a full range of energy systems research activities for years to come, incorporating technologies ranging from a smart electrical grid to advanced energy generation and storage; from sensing, networking and power electronics, to integrated communication and decision support architectures and technologies that support a smarter, more efficient, more resilient, and better integrated energy system. The “smart” part of the grid has to go from top to bottom — including at the consumer level where smart meters and smart appliances will enable consumers to know what energy they are using and to make informed decisions on when it is best to utilize energy. 
Implementing the “smart grid” is easier said than done. There are many different standards and protocols in use by utilities across the country — some would say a hodgepodge. It reminds me of the early days of the Internet. My grandchildren were born after the Internet was well established but those of us old enough to remember know how many competing networks there were in the early 1990’s — SNA from IBM, AppleLink from Apple, DecLink from Digital and dozens of others. The Internet Architecture Board of the Internet Engineering Task Force pulled  together a set of standards that superseded all other networks and became *the* network. A similar effort is now underway under coordination of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It was nostalgic to read and even if you only read the table of contents you will get an appreciation of the potential. See the NIST Framework and Roadmap for smart Grid Interoperability Standards. It is standards that make the Internet global and efficient. Likewise the smart grid standards will make it possible to predict and prevent power outages and ensure efficient transmission, distribution, storage, and utilization of energy no matter how it was produced. The need for the smart grid is great and the clock is ticking. Lehigh is gearing up to provide critical research and graduates to help move things forward.

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