ABB executives Enrique Santacana, right, and Anders Sjoelin have continued to build the company’s relationship with NC State.
It makes sense that NC State, a university with a top power engineering program, would work closely with ABB, one of the world's largest power grid suppliers.
And now that relationship has grown even stronger.
ABB, which has had facilities on NC State's Centennial Campus for two decades, announced in September plans to establish a smart grid research center at the campus. A few months later, the company's North American headquarters in Cary made a gift that helped to create a $1.2 million initiative supporting power engineering research and education efforts in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The gift augments the more than $300,000 the company is investing in NC State software, fellowships and power and power electronics research this year.
ABB, which is based in Switzerland, is also an industry partner of the FREEDM Systems Center, a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center headquartered at NC State that is developing key technologies to reshape the nation's energy grid.
"Since becoming the first corporate tenants on Centennial Campus in 1991, ABB's regional power products and power systems divisions have made their homes on campus. It's a longstanding and welcome relationship," said Dr. Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering. "A prime motivation of ABB in North America is to establish a greater presence in the US. We are very pleased that this new endowment will help grow our research relationship and help ABB develop its domestic capability."
ABB is making the investments at NC State as society's demands for energy efficiency and reliable, high-volume power from clean energy sources have fueled tremendous growth in power engineering, which deals with the generation, transmission and distribution of electric power, as well as the electrical devices connected tovthose systems. As more alternative-energy technologies enter the marketplace and the industry amps up energy efficiency and smart grid applications, researchers from universities and industry are working to reshape the power grid to handle the demand.
The recent $1.2 million initiative includes a five-year commitment of $632,000 from ABB plus anticipated matching grants. It will establish an endowed professorship, a faculty support fund, annual scholarships and a lecture series, all focused on power engineering.
The ABB Distinguished Professorship in Electrical Engineering will enable the College of Engineering to retain or recruit a top power engineering faculty member and support groundbreaking research in the field. In addition to ABB's contribution, it is anticipated that the professorship will be supplemented by matching grants that NC State has requested from the UNC Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund and the C.D. Spangler Foundation.
The ABB Power Engineering Scholarship program will offer five awards annually to students taking power engineering classes. The $6,000 scholarships are roughly equal to in-state tuition and fees at NC State and will help attract talented students to the field.
Dr. Daniel Stancil
The lecture series will feature prominent experts on topics related to recent developments in power technology and the smart grid. The gift also includes funds for faculty development in power engineering.
The ABB gift is important because engineering schools everywhere are investing heavily in their power engineering programs.
"It's a very competitive environment for attracting and keeping top faculty and students," said Dr. Daniel Stancil, head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "This ability to offer professorships and scholarships will help bring the brightest minds in power engineering to NC State."
NC State students have long been attracted to ABB's power systems work. The company typically takes on five to eight interns from NC State each year and has hired three NC State PhD graduates as full-time employees over the past two years.
"One of our biggest challenges is finding skilled engineers who are well-trained in the technical principles of this dynamic field," said Enrique Santacana, president and CEO of ABB Inc. and region manager of ABB in North America. "Not only will this initiative establish a pipeline of talented people for ABB, it combines NC State's top academic thinking and our practical business know-how for advancing this exciting and rapidly changing industry."
ABB and NC State have a long-established relationship, and the company currently employs about 300 people on Centennial at a corporate research center and the North America headquarters of its power products and power systems divisions.
The company's Smart Grid Center of Excellence, which will open on Centennial this year, will employ about 50 people and include a testing and development laboratory and a demonstration center that will showcase ABB's smart grid technologies and partnerships.
After the FREEDM Systems Center was announced in 2008, ABB became one of the center's formal industry partners and has worked closely with FREEDM researchers. The FREEDM Center's industry advisory board is chaired by Le Tang, vice president and head of the US corporate research center for ABB. Anders Sjoelin, region division manager for power systems with ABB, said ABB's smart grid work dovetailed well with FREEDM's research in the area.
"Locating our Smart Grid Center of Excellence in Raleigh will fuel even more collaboration with the FREEDM Systems Center," Sjoelin said. "FREEDM's focus on next-generation semiconductors and other smart grid technologies ties into our plans perfectly. We look forward to deepening our relationship with FREEDM."