New Smart Grid Solves Pervasive Power Grid Problems


Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and Montana Tech University have developed an award-winning control system that promises to solve many of the problems plaguing standard power grids. This R&D 100 system focuses on a particular problem called inter-area oscillations that has long left engineers stumped. The new system promises to smooth out these technological hiccups, providing people with smart grid technology the likes of which we haven’t seen.

Inter-area oscillations is the term for a very specific phenomenon. As electricity is forced to travel over long distances, it can behave in an unusual manner. The normal frequency (which is 60 cycles per second) ends up increasing on the utility side of the transmission line. Meanwhile, the frequency on the customer side sees a decrease, and switches back and forth roughly every second. This event typically occurs on hot days, when everyone is running air conditioners in an attempt to beat the heat. Unfortunately, it can often be disruptive to the grid as a whole — and can even lead to power outages.

Before this new technology emerged, the only way to prevent oscillations from disrupting the grid was to reduce the amount of power being transmitted. This obviously led to its own set of problems, which engineers are keen to solve. The new smart grid attempts to do just that. It allows utilities to push additional electricity through transmission lines. The end result is lower utility costs for consumers, and a far more stable power grid.

Inter-area oscillations have plagued engineers for more than 40 years; unfortunately, there was no effective and safe way to deal with this issue. The new smart grid seeks to balance out the imbalances in the system, keeping everything running smoothly without wasting much-needed electricity.

The secret to the smart grid’s success is the control system. It adjusts the power flow based on real-time measurements, thanks to special sensors that are placed throughout the grid. These measurements provide a clear and accurate look at the activity and frequency of the electricity.

If you think this sounds like a much-needed solution, you’re not alone. The Department of Energy is fully supporting and funding this new technology. These sensors will be dispersed through the western grid; scientists believe that the technology will demonstrate a dramatic change in energy loss and lead to smoother running and more effective electric grids for all.

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