Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Is the Power Grid too Big?

09.04.2014

Right-Sizing the Grid Could Reduce Blackout Risk, According to New Analysis in the Journal "Chaos"

Some 90 years ago, British polymath J.B.S. Haldane proposed that for every animal there is an optimal size -- one which allows it to make best use of its environment and the physical laws that govern its activities, whether hiding, hunting, hoofing or hibernating. Today, three researchers are asking whether there is a "right" size for another type of huge beast: the U.S. power grid.


B.A. Carreras/BACV Solutions

The overall operational "Risk" as a function of the system size (N), showing a decrease at first as the system becomes more efficient with size followed by an increase as the risk of large failures starts to dominate. The optimal size is then the minimum point in the curve.

David Newman, a physicist at the University of Alaska, believes that smaller grids would reduce the likelihood of severe outages, such as the 2003 Northeast blackout that cut power to 50 million people in the United States and Canada for up to two days.

Newman and co-authors Benjamin Carreras, of BACV Solutions in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Ian Dobson of Iowa State University make their case in the journal Chaos, which is produced by AIP Publishing.

Their investigation began 20 years ago, when Newman and Carreras were studying why stable fusion plasmas turned unstable so quickly. They modeled the problem by comparing the plasma to a sandpile.

"Sandpiles are stable until you get to a certain height. Then you add one more grain and the whole thing starts to avalanche. This is because the pile's grains are already close to the critical angle where they will start rolling down the pile. All it takes is one grain to trigger a cascade," he explained.

While discussing a blackout, Newman and Carreras realized that their sandpile model might help explain grid behavior.

The Structure of the U.S. Power Grid

North America has three power grids, interconnected systems that transmit electricity from hundreds of power plants to millions of consumers. Each grid is huge, because the more power plants and power lines in a grid, the better it can even out local variations in the supply and demand or respond if some part of the grid goes down.

On the other hand, large grids are vulnerable to the rare but significant possibility of a grid-wide blackout like the one in 2003.

"The problem is that grids run close to the edge of their capacity because of economic pressures. Electric companies want to maximize profits, so they don't invest in more equipment than they need," Newman said.

On a hot days, when everyone's air conditioners are on, the grid runs near capacity. If a tree branch knocks down a power line, the grid is usually resilient enough to distribute extra power and make up the difference. But if the grid is already near its critical point and has no extra capacity, there is a small but significant chance that it can collapse like a sandpile.

This is vulnerable to cascading events comes from the fact that the grid's complexity evolved over time. It reflects the tension between economic pressures and government regulations to ensure reliability.

"Over time, the grid evolved in ways that are not pre-engineered," Newman said.

Backup Power Versus Blackout Risk

In their new paper, the researchers ask whether the grid has an optimal size, one large enough to share power efficiently but small enough to prevent enormous blackouts.

The team based its analysis on the Western United States grid, which has more than 16,000 nodes. Nodes include generators, substations, and transformers (which convert high-voltage electricity into low-voltage power for homes and business).

The model started by comparing one 1,000-bus grid with ten 100-bus networks. It then assessed how well the grids shared electricity in response to virtual outages.

"We found that for the best tradeoff between providing backup power and blackout risk, the optimal size was 500 to 700 nodes," Newman said.

Though grid wide blackouts are highly unlikely, they can dominate costs. They are very expensive and take longer to get things back under control. They also require more crews and resources, so utilities can help one another as they do in smaller blackouts.

In smaller grids, the blackouts are smaller and easier to fix because utilities can call for help from surrounding regions. Overall, small grid blackouts have a lower cost to society,” Newman said.

The researchers believe their insights into sizing might apply to other complex, evolved networks like the Internet and financial markets.

"If we reduce the number of connected pieces, maybe we can reduce the societal cost of failures," Newman added.

The article, “Does size matter?” by B. A. Carreras, D. E. Newman, Ian Dobson appears in Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science (DOI: 10.1063/1.4868393). It will be published online on April 8, 2014. After that date, it may be accessed at: http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/chaos/24/2/10.1063/1.4868393

ABOUT THE JOURNAL
Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science is devoted to increasing the understanding of nonlinear phenomena and describing the manifestations in a manner comprehensible to researchers from a broad spectrum of disciplines. See: http://chaos.aip.org/

Jason Socrates Bardi | newswise

Further reports about: AIP Interdisciplinary Nonlinear Physics capacity electricity pressures

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Fast and Accurate 3-D Imaging Technique to Track Optically-Trapped Particles
24.04.2015 | Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

nachricht Tau Ceti: The next Earth? Probably not
23.04.2015 | Arizona State University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fast and Accurate 3-D Imaging Technique to Track Optically-Trapped Particles

KAIST researchers published an article on the development of a novel technique to precisely track the 3-D positions of optically-trapped particles having complicated geometry in high speed in the April 2015 issue of Optica.

Daejeon, Republic of Korea, April 23, 2015--Optical tweezers have been used as an invaluable tool for exerting micro-scale force on microscopic particles and...

Im Focus: NOAA, Tulane identify second possible specimen of 'pocket shark' ever found

Pocket sharks are among the world's rarest finds

A very small and rare species of shark is swimming its way through scientific literature. But don't worry, the chances of this inches-long vertebrate biting...

Im Focus: Drexel materials scientists putting a new spin on computing memory

Ever since computers have been small enough to be fixtures on desks and laps, their central processing has functioned something like an atomic Etch A Sketch, with electromagnetic fields pushing data bits into place to encode data.

Unfortunately, the same drawbacks and perils of the mechanical sketch board have been just as pervasive in computing: making a change often requires starting...

Im Focus: Exploding stars help to understand thunderclouds on Earth

How is lightning initiated in thunderclouds? This is difficult to answer - how do you measure electric fields inside large, dangerously charged clouds? It was discovered, more or less by coincidence, that cosmic rays provide suitable probes to measure electric fields within thunderclouds. This surprising finding is published in Physical Review Letters on April 24th. The measurements were performed with the LOFAR radio telescope located in the Netherlands.

How is lightning initiated in thunderclouds? This is difficult to answer - how do you measure electric fields inside large, dangerously charged clouds? It was...

Im Focus: On the trail of a trace gas

Max Planck researcher Buhalqem Mamtimin determines how much nitrogen oxide is released into the atmosphere from agriculturally used oases.

In order to make statements about current and future air pollution, scientists use models which simulate the Earth’s atmosphere. A lot of information such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

HHL Energy Conference on May 11/12, 2015: Students Discuss about Decentralized Energy

23.04.2015 | Event News

“Developing our cities, preserving our planet”: Nobel Laureates gather for the first time in Asia

23.04.2015 | Event News

HHL's Entrepreneurship Conference on FinTech

13.04.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrons Move Like Light in Three-Dimensional Solid

24.04.2015 | Materials Sciences

Connecting Three Atomic Layers Puts Semiconducting Science on Its Edge

24.04.2015 | Materials Sciences

Understanding the Body’s Response to Worms and Allergies

24.04.2015 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>