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Stabilizing the Power Grid

July 11, 2011 — Monitoring the stability of the power grid is a research and development area being investigated by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering under the direction of Professor John Pierre. Power systems are arguably some of the largest and most complicated systems in the world. For example, one vast power grid currently connects 14 western US states, two Canadian Provinces and a portion of Mexico. Such systems are difficult to fully understand and operate due to their scope as well as complexity. Large scale blackouts cause billions of dollars in economic loss; as was the result of blackouts in the United States during 1996 and 2003. UW’s effort is currently focusing on the use of GPS synchronized measurements generated from throughout the power grid to provide real-time monitoring of potential blackout conditions. Pierre states that “these measurements contain colored noise and we use signal processing algorithms to extract information about the vulnerability of the grid to a blackout.” In addition to providing resources for blackout avoidance, the group also aims to obtain a better understanding of a power system’s operational limits.

UW is currently collaborating in a variety of power and energy related projects with Montana Tech of the University of Montana, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the Power System Research Consortium (PSRC), and the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC). In excess of $2.1 million in funding has been provided to the university over the past 10 years, by the US Department of Energy (DOE), BPA, PNNL, and PSRC for the many aspects of this project ranging from basic research to commercialization.

Most recently, the university is participating in WECC’s “Smart Grid,” initiative called the Western Interconnection Synchrophasor Program (WISP). WISP’s overall objective is to improve transmission grid reliability by increasing the number of measurement units and deploying new software applications in power grid control centers. UW’s role is to combine efforts with Dan Trudnowski and Matt Donnelly of Montana Tech to write a software engine which will ultimately be integrated into a power system control center’s situational awareness application. UW Professor Suresh Muknahallipatna, and Postdoctoral Research Associate Luke Dosiek, are the key personnel responsible for translating the applicable algorithms into industrial grade code. “They are doing an exceptional job of creating a software engine that could have a significant impact on the reliability of power grids,” says Pierre.

In the areas of power and energy, additional and notable related projects are currently underway. Continued funding has been provided by the Department of Energy (DOE) for research on the methodologies for monitoring stability; including new work in identifying forced oscillations and separating them from modal oscillations in the system. In addition, UW plays a role in WECC system wide tests conducted by BPA. These tests include the injecting of known excitation signals into the western United States power system by modulating a specially designed probing signal onto the high voltage DC line that connects the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles. UW and Montana Tech design these probing signals and then analyze the data produced from the tests. Also, the university is a participating member of the PSRC, along with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Tennessee, and Montana Tech. This consortium is funded by a number of utilities providers in the eastern United States to develop dynamic security assessment tools for the eastern US power grid. Lastly, the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department is involved with a DOE education grant funded through the University of Minnesota to revitalize power engineering education by establishing state of the art laboratories.

Current research team members include Dr. Pierre, Dr. Muknahallipatna and Dr. Dosiek as well as graduate students: Gurudatha Pai, Russell Martin, Zheng Cao, and James Follum. Many graduate students formerly involved in the above mentioned research have successfully gone on to a variety of careers. Ph.D. graduates Nin Zhou and Frank Tuffner continue to collaborate with the university while working at PNNL. Ph.D. graduate Rich Wies is a faculty member at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and Ph.D. graduate Mike Anderson is employed with Boeing. M.S. graduates Ashish Subramanian and Irene Legowski are employed by Mathworks and the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, respectively.


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