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FPL and FAU Engineering Unveil New AI-Enabled Center

FAU and FPL Ribbon Cutting

(From left): James VanZwieten Jr., Ph.D.; co-director, FPL InETech; Stella Batalama, Ph.D.; dean, FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science; FAU President Stacy Volnick; Juliet Roulhac; FPL director of external affairs, Broward and Southwest regions, and director of corporate philanthropy, NextEra Energy, Inc.; Manny Miranda, FPL executive vice president of power delivery; Yufei Tang, Ph.D.; director, FPL InETech; and Carter Nichols, FAU undergraduate student in electrical engineering. (Photo by Alex Dolce)

Florida Atlantic University College of Engineering and Computer Science (COECS) and Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) officially unveiled the newly established “FPL Center for Intelligent Energy Technologies” (InETech) today at the university’s Boca Raton campus. The FPL InETech Center is housed in the state-of-the-art Engineering East building and is enabled by a $1M gift by NextEra Energy Foundation, FPL’s charitable arm.

The innovative public-private partnership will boost cutting-edge research in smart technologies, energy sector products and workforce development demanded by modern-day power delivery.

The FPL InETech Center, a first-of-its-kind artificial intelligence-enabled center, is designed to mimic FPL’s control center for smart grid – a complex power generation, transmission and distribution network – that uses leading-edge technology to predict and prevent future outages. FPL’s smart grid includes about six million smart meters and more than 217,000 other intelligent devices installed throughout its system. Through strategic investments, FPL has made the energy grid stronger, smarter and more storm-resilient while reducing outage times and restoration costs associated with severe weather events.  

The centerpiece of the FPL InETech Center is made up of 18, 55-inch screens wall-to-wall and individually controlled to provide real-time power grid visualization. This high-tech display is complemented with a suite of premier technologies and high-performance computers that allow researchers and students to work at the forefront of AI-enabled smart grid optimization, renewable energy research and big data analytics. For example, inspired by the popular generative AI model ChatGPT, one of the center’s recent pending patents introduces a tool designed to retrieve power grid data and assist grid operators in making quicker and more informed decisions.

“This exciting partnership between Florida Atlantic University and FPL is a giant step forward to address the current and future needs of the energy industry, as we work together to initiate new ideas and insights that will benefit our communities,” said FAU President Stacy Volnick. “Importantly, this partnership will support and elevate young scientists and engineers, by equipping them with the high-level skills needed to transform the energy sector.”

The FPL InETech Center is spearheaded by Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean, FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“The FPL/NextEra Energy Foundation gift will have a multiplier effect on Florida Atlantic successes in state-of-the-art research and development and workforce development for the state of Florida and the nation in engineering and computer science disciplines, particularly as they apply to the energy sector,” said Batalama.

The four-year collaboration is designed to foster student recruitment and engage undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students in pioneering energy projects.

“This center will serve as a hub to educate, train and inspire the next generation of innovators, engineers, researchers and energy leaders,” said Juliet Roulhac, FPL director of external affairs, Broward and Southwest regions, and director of corporate philanthropy, NextEra Energy, Inc. “FPL is committed to powering strong communities by supporting partners like Florida Atlantic University and helping students pursue their educational goals and build successful careers.”

The FPL/NextEra Energy Foundation gift also supports the creation of the FPL InETech Center Scholarship, community outreach and K-12 educational activities focused on the energy industry.

“The FPL InETech Center will provide our students with an immersive learning experience and access to real-world technologies and hands-on simulations that will help them to develop the skills needed to fill high-demand jobs across the region,” said Yufei Tang, Ph.D., director of the FPL InETech Center and an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “Advanced equipment will enable them to analyze, explore and simulate data associated with the complex design and operation of microgrids and also will provide a platform to replicate power grids and other energy sources.”

As the Atlantic hurricane season kicks off this month, FPL’s smart grid technology is at the helm of identifying and addressing the vast majority of power-related issues, including outages. Additionally, the company employs drones for more efficient assessments, especially in hard-to-reach areas. Following Hurricane Ian, FPL launched more than 2,000 drone flights, including the first storm response effort for its first-of-its-kind FPLAir One fixed-wing drone, which collected more than 50,000 images that provided real-time information on the company’s equipment post-hurricane.

Tang and other researchers in the COECS also developed advanced technologies related to monitoring severe weather events, including hurricanes. For example, the FAU Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE) is the lead technology provider for the South East Atlantic Econet, a large regional network of atmospheric monitoring stations (135 atmospheric stations in Florida – with additional stations managed outside the state).

“We are incredibly grateful for the support and generosity of FPL and the NextEra Energy Foundation as we officially launch the new FPL Center for Intelligent Energy Technologies right here in our cutting-edge building in the heart of Palm Beach County,” said Batalama. “Through this collaborative partnership and our combined knowledge, assets and resources, we will transform the energy landscape in South Florida and well beyond.”