Powering Up: Valerie Thomas Featured in GT Research Horizons

May 15, 2015 | Atlanta, GA

New materials and technologies aren't the only ways to address energy storage challenges. Valerie Thomas (Public Policy) notes that power management, an aspect that doesn't often get much attention, has the potential to greatly impact the way we approach power use and storage. Thomas is studying how a high adoption rate for electric vehicles would affect the cost of various sources of electricity. Among the findings: Controlling when vehicles are charged could reduce the cost of electricity for the entire power system

In a recent study, Thomas and Deepak Divan, professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, looked at how a high adoption rate for electric vehicles would affect the cost of various sources of electricity. Among their findings: If you could control when vehicles are charged, so it could be done when most cost-effective for grid operators, the cost of electricity for the entire power system would be reduced — including for renewables.

Power management is nothing new, Thomas said, pointing to demand-response programs where utilities pay customers to reduce power usage during hours when energy consumption is the highest.

“It’s something I think needs more emphasis,” she said. “Energy challenges are typically viewed from the supply side; not to say we don’t want a better battery, but there are some very interesting opportunities on the demand side — changing how we use energy and how the system is managed.”

At the same time, major advances in energy storage, especially for small-scale renewables, have the potential to dramatically change the power game, Thomas said.

“For example, if it became easier to produce and store electricity on an individual basis, then we might not need the grid anymore.”

She added:

“These are really interesting times. Significant advances in energy storage could alter our entire way of managing and delivering electricity — resulting in less vulnerability to power outages and real environmental pluses.”

This story was originally featured in Georga Tech Research Horizons.

Valerie Thomas is the Anderson Interface Associate Professor of Natural Systems in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, with a joint appointment in the School of Public Policy. Her research interests are the efficient use of materials and energy, sustainability, industrial ecology, technology assessment, international security, and science and technology policy.

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