A new mathematical model for synchronizing elements of the nation’s electric power grid would increase its ability to withstand and recover from major power interruptions, according to an article by a team of Northwestern University researchers published in the March 2013 issue of the journal Nature Physics.
When implemented, the authors argue that the model would allow the power grid to restore and synchronize automatically, avoiding or shortening outages and in doing so ultimately save billions of dollars. Currently, interventions to synchronize power generators across the grid’s different elements, and restore electric service, require activating control devices reactively.
The researchers pointed out that one needn’t look far for examples of how this would be useful. “The blackout at this year’s Super Bowl was caused by a device that was installed specifically to prevent blackouts,” noted one of the paper’s authors, Northwestern’s Takashi Nishikawa. “A large fraction of blackouts have human and equipment errors among the causes.”
The North American power grid faces increasing risk of disruption by adverse events, interruptions that, on average, impact hundreds of thousands of people costing billions of dollars in damages.