Tree limbs brush against an Ohio power line, causing it to short-circuit. Soon, a nearby power plant is knocked off-line. A giant cascading effect then occurs, ultimately forcing the shutdown of more than 100 power plants in the northeastern United States and Canada and leaving 50 million people without power. Such was the chain of events leading up to the Great Blackout of Aug. 14, 2003, which also caused widespread problems with communication, drinking-water, transportation and other systems throughout the region for several days.
To help address and improve issues with the North American power grid, including some of those brought to the fore during the August 2003 blackout and in the investigations that followed, Florida State University’s Center for Advanced Power Systems (CAPS), with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is beginning work to improve the reliability and security of the nation’s electric power grid.
DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, has announced a $4.77-million award and the start of this important research project. CAPS officials also will summarize the activities that the center will undertake to help researchers better understand, improve, safeguard, protect, and modernize the nation’s electric power infrastructure.
“The Department of Energy is pleased and excited to partner with the Center for Advanced Power Systems,” said William Parks, deputy director of research and development. “It is paramount that the United States put some of its best talent at universities and national laboratories like Sandia to work on modernizing the electric grid. Grid modernization – targeting reliability, resiliency and restoration – is a major key to U.S. competitiveness over the next century. This partnership will allow us to enhance research in superconductivity, transmission reliability and cybersecurity.”
In describing the need for a better understanding of the nation’s power system, CAPS Director Steinar J. Dale said that “the electric power grids in place today are being used in ways that were never intended.” He cited capacity limitations combined with bulk-power transfers of electricity across large distances, which the system wasn’t designed to handle.
“We have to operate the grids smarter than we have in the past,” Dale added. “With the DOE’s grant, CAPS is well-positioned to work toward solutions to the reliability and capacity problems that plague the current system.”
He stated that the DOE grant will help fund research in four keys areas:
- Advanced Simulation Development – CAPS is home to the most powerful university-based dynamic digital power system simulator in the nation. Using this real-time simulator, which will be further expanded with the DOE funding, scientists and engineers will be able to gain new insights into the behavior of the nation’s electric power infrastructure.
- New-Technology Insertion – Research will help investigate and resolve issues with applying new technologies such as power-electronics-based reactive power and power-flow control devices and new approaches such as distributed generation and microgrids. This includes helping power companies determine how new technologies will work when integrated into the system, which is key to minimizing risk and ensuring the reliability of the system.
- High-Temperature Superconductivity – Superconducting materials have the potential to improve the reliability and increase the capacity of power systems. However, the nation’s alternating-current (AC) power supply hinders their effectiveness. By performing research at cryogenic temperatures – more than 300 degrees below zero Fahrenheit – CAPS will work to improve the understanding of AC losses and electric insulation behavior, ultimately helping to enable widespread application of superconducting devices in power systems.
- System Security, Protection and Control – Working with New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories, CAPS research will lead to improved security of the computer control systems critical to operating the nation’s power system.
In addition to its collaboration with Sandia, CAPS will lead a consortium of several other Florida universities in this research project.