Researchers at North Carolina State have developed so-called “smart transformers” that MIT considers one of the world’s 10 most important emerging technologies.

No, we’re not talking about Transformers as in recent and forthcoming Hollywood movies.

These transformers are being developed as part of technology needed to develop the so-called “smart grid” for power transmission networks. The development is taking place at the Nation Science Foundation supported NSF FREEDM Systems Center at NCSU.

MIT included the transformers in the 2011 emerging technology list published in MIT Technology Review.

“In a lab wired up to simulate a residential neighborhood, Alex Huang is working to revamp aging power grids into something more like the Internet—a network that might direct energy not just from centralized power stations to consumers but from any source to any destination, by whatever route makes the most sense,” wrote David Freedman in the MIT magazine report.

“To that end, Huang, a professor of electrical engineering at North Carolina State University, is reinventing the transformers that currently reduce the voltage of the electricity distributed to neighborhoods so that it’s suitable for use in homes and offices.”

Dr. Alex Huang is the center’s director and the Progress Energy Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at N.C. State.

The transformers are considered to be more efficient and “adaptive” to power grid needs.

“Smart grid technology could make electrical power more reliable, and make it easier to integrate renewables such as solar and wind,” said Stephen Cass, special projects editor for the magazine. “The smart transformer being developed at the NSF FREEDM Systems Center at NC State University represents a major advance for smart grids, allowing the flow of electricity to be controlled and rerouted in a manner similar to how data is routed around the Internet.”

The new transformers could enable incorporation of solar and wind power into a grid without blackouts or surges, and electrical vehicles could be charged more quickly.

“We are honored that our work has been recognized during these exciting times in the electric power systems field,” said Huang. “Developing smart solid-state transformers will be crucial to improving power quality and reliability for residential users and industry customers and bringing more renewable energy onto the electricity grid.”

The NSF is funding the center with a five-year $18.5 million grant that was awarded in 2008.

FREEDM stands for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management.

Read the full MIT report here.

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