Year of selection 2015
Institution National Centre for Nuclear Research
Most of us take it for granted that, when we flip a light switch, the power will flow. Our electricity production is generally stable and able to meet demand, but this is not a given. Power grids are vulnerable to various threats and failures can put our most essential infrastructure at risk, like hospitals, airports and telecommunication services. When a problem arises, the immediate and urgent goal is to return the system to its normal state as quickly as possible. Operators might achieve this by temporarily shifting the power generation to another source or reducing demand, for example. The former is considered more reliable and popular but can be extremely costly, reaching a million dollars in just a few minutes. With his research, Dr. Karol Wawrzyniak and his team aims to inform this process by creating a highly detailed simulation of the chain of events leading up to a blackout. He wants to see a power grid that is capable of continuous, comprehensive risk assessment, which uses that information to optimize the actions taken in response to system failures. The goal of his current project is to develop the tools that will make that possible.
Unpredictable events can spring up that put electricity production and delivery in jeopardy, including extreme weather, acts of terrorism and human error. Action must be taken to fix the damaged grid within a certain amount of time. Under today’s systems operators hurry to take corrective measures—as soon as possible and regardless of cost—to restore normal electricity service. Otherwise, the result can be a cascading failure that begins at a single point on the grid, but spreads to affect a larger segment of a region, including its critical services. Dr. Wawrzyniak sees room for considerable improvement here. The response could be smarter and more complex than this, he says. It should be based on risk assessments of potential states of the grid that will take into account characteristics of the region, like its population density and economic activity, local weather conditions, the cost of the correction and the necessary timeframe to accomplish it in. He is developing a new mathematical model that can do just that, which he will put to use optimizing the appropriate response.
Dr. Wawrzyniak aims for a more comprehensive quantification of risk. A power grid can function in various states, but some of these are safer than others. The risk associated with each potential condition that deviates from normal needs to be assessed, but quantifying the probability of each undesirable event and the cost of its consequences is not an easy task. Dr. Wawrzyniak’s model will tackle this in a novel way, using statistical analyses capable of capturing dynamic probabilities that change as a cascading power failure progresses. The innovative system should allow for continuous assessment of the risk, which, in turn, could provide extra information on the gravity of the situation and the time period within which action must be taken. “In short,” Dr. Wawrzyniak summarizes, “if we know how to quantify the risk, we should also be able to estimate how fast we have to return to the normal state and how to optimize the cost related to the necessary actions.”
The model he is building should be easily applicable to other regions’ power grids and to different types of data. For instance, it could be used to estimate the probability of a failure in the power system given certain weather conditions. This could be important for energy infrastructure around the world that is facing new challenges from increasingly intense weather events. Dr. Wawrzyniak’s tool could prove vital for coordinated risk management in power production and supply, and the stability of our energy systems, so often taken for granted.
Scientific title: Development Of Methodology Assessing The Risk Of Remedial Actions In Transmission Systems And Optimizing Them
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