Northwestern researchers develop model for improved power grid

Lauren Caruba, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern researchers have developed a design for a new power grid meant to accommodate the more severe weather and less reliable sources of electricity expected in the future, according to a University news release.

Based on a set of identified properties and conditions power companies use to operate power generators, the model aims at decreasing the occurrence of blackouts and electricity costs. The prototype also suggests a solution for working with more sporadic renewable energy resources like wind power and solar energy.

Physics and astronomy Prof. Adilson Motter, who headed the research effort, said in the release the design is meant to for a “completely different power grid in the future.”

“The use of renewable energy is growing,” Motter said in the release. “More people will be driving electric cars, and the power grid will be delivering this energy, not gas stations. We need a power grid that is more capable and more reliable. This requires a better understanding of the current power grid as well as new ways to stabilize it.”

The new power grid design is also meant to reduce the impact of human factors that can lead to electrical failures like the one that happened at this year’s Super Bowl, said Prof. Takashi Nishikawa, who teaches astronomy and physics at NU.

“Reduced dependence on conventional control devices can improve the reliability of the grid,” Nishikawa said in the release. “Our analysis also suggests ways to design control strategies that potentially can improve the existing ones.”

The researchers’ model is appearing this month in the journal Nature Physics in an article entitled “Spontaneous synchrony in power-grid networks.”

Lauren Caruba