Researchers at University of British Columbia Okanagan campus are working at a goal of eliminating brownouts and blackouts. The new research is redesigning how electricity is distributed within power grids. The research published in the International Journal of Electrical Power & Energy, describes a power system operation that will consist of multiple microgrids – separate grids operating like individual islands that can disconnect from the main power supply and run independently.

The islanded systems will provide electricity to smaller geographical areas, such as cities and large neighborhoods. In the case of a failure in the main system, the local grid operation system will keep more of the lights on.

Yuri Rodrigues, a UBCO electrical engineering doctoral student and study co-author said, “The microgrid will recognize the problem in the main power system and will isolate itself, avoiding previously inevitable power outages.”

UBCO’s Morad Abdelaziz and Yuri Rodrigues have been researching the impact microgrids would have on the distribution and conservation of electrical power. Image Credit: University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus. Click image for the largest view.

He explained, however, that a continued supply of power in this mode will depend on locally available generating reserves. This means that conserving energy is vital to keeping the islanded grid operational for as long as possible.

Rodrigues describes their approach as the difference between using the sports mode on your car versus the eco mode. The microgrid can distribute power at a slightly diluted level that won’t negatively impact electronics while allowing power to flow for longer periods without running out.

Rodrigue noted, “Our new proposed method takes a more sustainable approach, allowing the microgrids to conserve power so any shortfall can be better handled by the microgrid itself.”

The challenge with using this concept in a larger system is that those larger systems may experience too much instability – this could result in the entire system shutting down. Rodrigues pointed to a similar occurrence in 2003 when most of the eastern seaboard of North America collapsed leaving millions in the dark.

Many safeguards already exist within power distribution systems to enlarge the system operation, but they only help by prioritizing power based on urgency, meaning hospitals and infrastructure would take precedence over regular consumer needs, he said.

This new approach of conserving power that is distributed within microgrids and thereby reducing or eliminating brownouts and blackouts could soon be an option for power systems around the world. It would also allow for global energy conservation that would decrease the network’s demand and improve the self-sufficiency of the microgrid as a whole.

According to Rodrigues, their testing indicates this approach can significantly enhance microgrid autonomy and stability with no impact on the wider power system.

“There are many components that make up a power system from generation to distribution before electricity arrives in the outlets of consumers,” said Rodrigues. “Creating a system this is more self-sufficient, robust and sustainable is key to creating a reliable and blackout-free experience for future power consumers.”

Those really big outages still get media attention, but they remain infrequent. Even the outages from variable and intermittent system failures don’t get coverage. Its a bigger problem than many realize. Weather events will likely continue to be the principle cause of outages and if this technology can help, you can be sure the utility companies are looking at this group’s work with great interest.


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