Electrical engineering researchers win best poster award

Balog, RobertMembers of the Renewable Energy and Advanced Power Electronics Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University won the "Best Poster" award at the 2013 Photovoltaic Specialist Conference.

Dr. Robert S Balog and his student Zhan Wang won the award for their poster, “Arc Fault and Flash Detection in PV DC Arrays Using Wavelets.” This paper was one of three nominated for this award from their lab.

Balog’s arc fault detection research was recently recognized for its merit and impact with a grant from the National Science Foundation to support further research in this area. Balog said arc faults cause fires, shock hazard and system failures in photovoltaic (PV) and other direct-current (DC) systems such as a micro grid. Annually, more than 28,000 residential electrical fires cause 360 deaths, 1,000 injuries, and $995 million in damage. Arc fault detectors, now required for use in homes, only respond to series arc faults in alternating current (AC) circuits. DC electrical arcs in PV systems can be caused by loose electrical connections (series arc fault) or abrasion of conductors secured to the mounting frame due to thermal expansion, vibration, nesting rodents or failure within the PV modules (parallel arc fault).

The problem of arcing faults exists for small-scale residential systems as well as large-scale utility systems and can pose significant threats to human safety according to Balog. As long as this problem exists, the PV industry will have significant concerns about liability and the impact upon widespread adoption of photovoltaic energy. His research into arc fault detection is extremely important for the reliable and safe system operation and will remove significant barriers for high penetration of solar energy. Early results show that the technique is promising for not just dc systems, but also ac systems. Field testing using measured waveforms from both dc solar and ac electrical systems corroborate the simulation results and show efficacy greater than currently available commercial solutions. We envision that this technology can be used not only to improve the safety of solar energy, but that it can be incorporated into smart meters, smart outlet, or smart appliances to provide superior safety anywhere electricity is used.

Balog is affiliated with the Electric Power and Power Electronics Group in the Texas A&M electrical and computer engineering department. He received his BSEE from Rutgers University in 1996 and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2006. He has more than seven years of industry experience, including launching a technology startup company commercializing his work in residential scale solar inverters. He holds 14 issued and pending U.S. patents and is a licensed professional engineer. Balog is the director of the Renewable Energy and Advanced Power Electronics Research Laboratory and is currently investigating novel balance of system technologies to holistically address the cells-to-grid interface challenges in solar energy. Honors include receiving the 2011 Rutgers University Distinguished Engineer Award, being named an Ernest A. Reid Fellow, the first IEEE International Telecommunications Energy Conference (INTELEC) Fellow and receiving two Grainger Outstanding Power Engineering Awards. He was recently selected for membership in the External Body of the Hungarian Academy of Science.

The two other posters nominated were: "Micro-inverter and String Inverter Grid-Connected Photovoltaic System — A Comprehensive Study," by Souhib Harb, Mohit Kedia, Haiyu Zhang and Balog, and "Multi-objective Optimization of the DC-DC stage of a Module-integrated Inverter Based on an Efficiency Usage Model," by Mehran Mirjafari and Balog.