Amid summer’s energy crunch, UMR researchers are to address electrical distribution problems that could lead to power failures.
Dr. Bruce McMillin, professor of computer science, and Dr. Mariesa Crow, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMR, are leading a research project funded by the National Science Foundation to address the issue of "cascading" power failures. The system McMillin and Crow propose would use switching devices — called Flexible Alternating Current Transmission System (FACTS) devices — to control power flow across individual lines to prevent overloads.
"The devices measure the power and coordinate with each other to control the flow," McMillin says.
With these devices in place, the researchers hope to put an end to the threat of cascading power failures. Such failures can lead to massive blackouts, such as the one that occurred in New York City and along the Eastern Seaboard in the 1960s.
Power problems have been in the news in recent months as insufficient electric lines cause overbooking. While California dealt with rolling blackouts in the spring of 2001, the Midwest faces the possibility of rising energy prices due to increasing demand. With the FACTS system in place, rotating blackouts wouldn’t be necessary, say Crow and McMillin.
"Currently power flow follows the laws of physics," says Crow, "flowing along the path of least impedance." Getting power from the generator to the consumer can become a problem when lines are congested. The FACTS devices would allow the power flow to switch to a lesser-used line when transmission corridors become overloaded, Crow says.
"If there aren’t enough lines, the system will cut back power — schedule it optimally — so the least number of people are affected," Crow says.
The devices are in the prototype stage and the researchers expect it to take 10 years before the system is commercialized. In the meantime, power companies can use the UMR system to help schedule power transmission and for guidance in recovery from failures.