Ultrafast System Developed to Detect and Fix Problems on the Power Grid

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Researchers at the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems (FREEDM) Center have conceived and demonstrated a method to restore power to stricken areas more quickly after sections of the grid experience power interruptions. The proposed system is faster than standard methods and does not require communication between the nodes that police the grid.

FREEDM, an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC), is headquartered at North Carolina State University.

Impact/benefits: 

The work could significantly reduce the amount of time utility customers are without power. That, in turn, could result in substantial savings in terms of money and productivity.

Explanation/Background: 

The power grid is subject to continual abnormalities to the flow of current, called faults. Faults can be fleeting, but sometimes they persist and lead to lengthy interruptions of service for the customers of electric utilities. Even when they don’t result in outages, faults still impair the quality of power, which can have adverse effects on customers’ sensitive equipment.

Thus, accurate fault detection, isolation, and the restoration of normal current flow is an important feature of the modern power grid. The traditional approach is burdened by two big disadvantages: it’s comparatively slow; and it is ineffective in a “loop system,” one of the standard configurations for power distribution networks.

The Center’s innovative fault-repairing model, proven in the prototype stage, relies on the special properties of new fault isolation devices (FIDs) that the ERC is also developing.