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Spreading the word about smart grids


Published Sep 09, 2013

With Sweden's first professor of the smart grid joining the faculty, KTH could become an international driving force on the subject.

Lina Bertling-Tjernberg brings her extensive international involvement in smart grids to KTH, where she now servers as professor of electrical networks.

She is known as one of Sweden's foremost advocate for smart grids. Now, Lina Bertling-Tjernberg has returned to KTH Royal Institute of Technology for the next chapter of her career.

After five years at Chalmers University, Bertling-Tjernberg returned to Stockholm in early September to fill the newly-created position of professor of electrical networks at the KTH School of Electrical Engineering.

“It feels a bit like coming home,” Bertling says.

Bertling-Tjernberg started at KTH as an undergraduate, eventually getting her doctorate and serving as an assistant professor before she took the position of research director at the Swedish National Grid (Svenska Kraftnät). She became a

A big part of Lina Bertling-Tjernberg's job is as an expert and adviser.

professor at Chalmers in 2009.

But it wasn’t nostalgia that motivated Bertling-Tjernberg to leave Chalmers in favor of KTH, where a central part of her role will be as an adviser and expert.

“I started sketching out a plan for a sabbatical period to recharge with new research ideas. But then the role at KTH came up, and it felt like a right next step.

“KTH has a strong position in research on electric power and has an important role in the EU as a node in smart grids and EIT InnoEnergy,” she says.

At Chalmers, she held a leadership role. For the first three years there, she served as head of the department electrical science. Her responsibilities were also broader, spanning the entire power system, in contrast with the role she now fills at KTH.

“When I read about this role (at KTH), I felt that this suits me, it's exactly my area,” she says.

New challenges for the electric power grid

Sweden faces major investments in the electric power grid, such as the expansion of the so-called Southern Link, which would secure southern Sweden's electricity supply. Finding new solutions is a necessity if the technology is to “walk hand-in-hand with a sustainable energy system,” Bertling-Tjernberg says.

But the smart grid is also about to add something else to the transmission.

“One can compare this with mobile phones, which now have many more features than just making phone calls. A smart grid is not just a power supply, it is also a mediator of loads of information.”

As for the future of electric power, she points to the possibility of direct current being used more. The electric power system as it is today, built on a three-phase alternating current (AC), is not a given.

“That was a choice they made because it was easier to deal with alternating current,” she says. “But new technology allows us to use direct current (DC) better. One of the major technology breakthroughs in recent years is ABB's DC breaker. I think we will have a mix of direct and alternating current. There is a great potential.”

Finding her own niche

To some extent, switching from one institution to another means a researcher must start from scratch, since projects are linked to universities. Bertling-Tjernberg says that the change brings a new opportunity to focus on  what she will take care of when it comes to new projects.

KTH has a large group of senior researchers with related subjects and the opportunity to find their own niche. Bertling-Tjernberg says that her main interests are in reliability analysis and maintenance management, as well as new areas of cooperation and control engineering or energy.

But a large share of Bertling-Tjernberg’s work lies outside of the university. She advises the Swedish government on smart grids, and serves as treasurer of the international organization, IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Power & Energy Society, PES. In addition, Bertling-Tjernberg has international involvement in the development of smart grids.

“Much of what I do in my professor's role today is as an adviser or expert, a job that comes with me,” she says.

A general lack of knowledge

She spent part of the summer on a tour to present research on smart grids. One of the stops was Korea, which she says has

Working as a professor is a lifestyle

come a long way in this area.

“In many ways, it's easier to build sustainable energy when you start from the beginning. In Asia, where the economy is expanding very rapidly, things like electric vehicles are very big.

Through her international commitment, she has also built up a large network of contacts that she will continue to develop. The university’s third mission, to spread knowledge of science, is close to Bertling-Tjernberg’s heart; and she lectures extensively on smart grids in Sweden and abroad.

“The job of a professor involves a belief that knowledge can solve problems,” she says. “But there is a general lack of knowledge about electricity, so part of our mission is to problematize - convey a true picture that shows both the opportunities and the obstacles that must be overcome.”

Many actors

One of the obstacles that complicate smart grid progress is the involvement of many different players in the electric power field. To move forward, she says there is a need for better collaboration between both academia and industry, and between different countries.

“Something I learned more about in recent years is the cooperation in the energy sector. I think the future of the smart grid is in solutions for the whole energy sector."

For that reason, she says her experience at several universities in different countries, and in industry, is an asset

“I'm glad I have this experience, because it enables me to become a person that contributes to increased collaboration. Working as a professor is a lifestyle; and one of the reasons I do it is that I think I can make a difference.”

Ursula Stigzelius