Smart Power Grids

City Blocks at night

More than just occasional nuisances that force us to unearth our candles and flashlights, electricity blackouts can be a source of safety hazards and significant economic loss. Nearly every facet of modern life depends on electricity – now more than ever before. As an increasing amount of our lives is stored on and accessed from cloud servers and more of our devices are connected and responsive to one another, our dependence on reliable electricity will only escalate into the future.

Electricity blackouts are often caused by physical breakages in the supply grid, as the electricity is transported from the point of generation to distribution centres that deliver the electricity to consumers. Predictably, the more complicated the power grid, the more difficult it is to locate the cause of the blackout, which needs to be established before repair actions can take place. Time is most often lost finding the defect, as current methods rely on consumer reporting and trial-and-error detecting, both of which are woefully inadequate. Updated methods of precisely locating the source of blackouts are required for faster grid repairs as demand for consistent and reliable electricity continues to rise.

Hanan Lutfiyya, Anwar Haque and their research groups from the Department of Computer Science at Western University, are working on “smart power grid systems” to better trace blackout points in the grid and resolve them faster. By implementing a system of sensors on an electrical grid, their groups are able to accumulate large amounts of electrical data which they can use to locate faults on the line with precision.

Results

The sensors themselves are relatively small and inexpensive, giving them the potential to create significant savings in both time and money otherwise required for traditional grid repairs. Hanan Lutfiyya and Anwar Haque have partnered with Tillsonburg Hydro – a power company currently serving around 7,000 customers – and are in the process of implementing their system on the Tillsonburg grid. Having a real-world partner means that the group can not only test their system but also optimize it to further reduce costs.

As the data rolls in from the partnership with Tillsonburg Hydro, the Lutfiyya and Haque groups will seek to make improvements on their novel system and make it scalable to larger, more complex power grids. Minimizing the number of sensors required to precisely locate grid defects while still maintaining precision will be the key to scaling up the Lutfiyya/Haque group smart grid system.