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What #powerBREAKTHRU are you most thankful for?

A lot of things have changed. It used to be that utilities talked about outages and reliability. Now they talk about branding and social media—and outages and reliability. OK. So maybe we haven’t totally changed. There’s certainly been evolution, but there’s also a solid base underneath all that new growth.

So, we knocked on a few doors and asked about that solid base—the industry a-ha moments that defined the last century—for our November/December print issue. What are the biggest, most powerful elements in the equation? See if you agree with the answers when the print issue comes out in a couple of weeks. (Whether you do or you don’t, tell us all about it on Twitter @IntelUtil using the #powerBREAKTHRU.)

To start the conversation, we decided to include the full answer here of Massoud Amin, chairman, IEEE Smart Grid. (A shorter version of his answer is included in the upcoming print issue, but we found his full answer so compelling that we wanted to start this conversation with it.)


So, what's the biggest power breakthrough in the last 100 years in your opinion? 

Amin: The biggest power breakthrough in the last 100 years has taken place during the past 50 years as we have begun taking a more holistic view of energy. The North American electric power system evolved in the first half of the 20th century without a clear awareness and analysis of the system-wide implications of its evolution. This continental-scale grid is a multi-scale, multi-level hybrid system, which underlies every aspect of our economy and society. The largest machine in the world, its transmission lines connect all generation and distribution on the continent into four major interconnections. 

The 50th anniversary of the November 9, 1965 blackout is forthcoming. An event that, as it turns out, changed the way we analyze and control power systems in many ways. At that point we didn't have state estimation, optimal power flow, or even Newton power flow or decoupled power flow, and security analysis was only done with very rudimentary “D Factors.” Computer systems used in the energy management systems (EMS) and Power Pool centers with either big IBM computers or very small process control computers built by GE or SDS. 

Then came the November 1965 blackout, caused by a set of wrongly-set overcurrent protection relays on the line from the Dir Adam Beck Hydro Plant at Niagara Falls to Toronto, and we got NERC and a whole new direction for the power industry which eventually made deregulation possible. 

It is important to note that the key elements and principles of operation for interconnected power systems were established in the 1960s prior to the emergence of extensive computer and communication networks. Computation is now heavily used in all levels of the power network-for planning and optimization, fast local control of equipment, processing of field data. But coordination across the network happens on a slower time-scale. Some coordination occurs under computer control, but much of it is still based on telephone calls between system operators at the utility control centers, even---or especially---during emergencies. 

In order to address these and to better understand dynamics and couplings of markets, systems, the environment and resilience new effort enables by better hardware, software and analytics have been utilized in the last two decades. During the past 20 years we have systematically scanned science and technology, investment and policy dimensions to gain clearer insight on current science and technology assets when looked at from a consumer-centered future perspective, rather than just incremental contributions to today’s electric energy system and services. 

The goal of transforming current infrastructures to self-healing energy delivery, markets, computer and communications networks with unprecedented robustness, reliability, efficiency and quality for customers and our society is ambitious. Achieving a better, more reliable, more secure and sustainable power will take a combination of evolutionary developments, regulatory changes and accelerated technology development in several areas. 

As an example, the increased deployment of feedback and communication implies that loops are being closed where they have never been closed before, across multiple temporal and spatial scales, thereby creating a gold mine of opportunities for control. Control systems are needed to facilitate decision-making under myriad uncertainties, across broad temporal, geographical, and industry scales—from devices to power-system-wide, from fuel sources to consumers, and from utility pricing to demand-response. The various challenges introduced can be posed as a system-of-systems problem, necessitating new control themes, architectures and algorithms. These architectures and algorithms need to be designed so that they embrace the resident complexity in the grid: large-scale, distributed, hierarchical, stochastic, and uncertain. With information and communication technologies and advanced power electronics providing the infrastructure, these architectures and algorithms will need to provide the smarts, and leverage all advances in communications and computation such as 4G networks, cloud computing and multi-core processors. 

Through the second half of the 20th century, many electric power grid systems saw tremendous expansion that established power transmission interconnections over long distances. These interconnects were first developed with a primary goal of mutually reinforcing reliability between regions. With the expansion of wholesale markets for power over the last two decades, long distance transmission ties have increasingly been employed to allow utilization of remote generation resources and to enable economic interchange of power. 

Driven in part by the desire to integrate new generation sources such as renewables, this trend towards wide area interconnection is being re-visited in the 21st century, as significant transmission reinforcement is again being considered in many regions, Moreover, in recent years the physical power flow coupling of the transmission grid is increasingly being supplemented by coupling via high bandwidth, wide area sensing communication and control, under the umbrella of “smart grid.” Clearly, the objective is to exploit opportunities in control-based “cyber-infrastructure,” to enable much more efficient utilization of the grid’s high-capital-cost physical infrastructure, to achieve better performance, lower cost and reduced environmental impact in society’s electric energy use. 


Why is this so important?

Amin: A new mega-infrastructure has emerged from the convergence of energy (including the electric grid, water, oil and gas pipelines), telecommunications, transportation, Internet and electronic commerce. Electricity infrastructure underpins all of these interdependent systems that our society and all of us crucially depend on. In addition, in the electric power industry and other critical infrastructures, new ways are being sought to improve network efficiency and eliminate congestion problems without seriously diminishing reliability and security. 

How to control a heterogeneous, widely dispersed, yet globally interconnected system is a serious technological problem in any case. It is even more complex and difficult to control for optimal efficiency and maximum benefit to the ultimate consumers while still allowing its business components to compete fairly and freely. A similar need exists for other infrastructures where future advanced systems are predicated on the near-perfect functioning of today’s electricity, communications, transportation and financial services.


Keep an eye out for the Nov/Dec print issue of Intelligent Utility to get answers from 19 more industry insiders on this topic. And what’s your answer? Let us know on Twitter at #powerBREAKTHRU and, for this Thanksgiving holiday, #thanksPOWER. Aim it @IntelUtil, and we'll let you know what we think, too. Let's start a conversation about giving thanks for power and those who make that power possible.

Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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