Eliminating Brownouts and Blackouts by Manipulating Electricity Distribution in Power GridsMarch 29, 2020 by Luke James
A research team from the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) School of Engineering is redesigning how electricity is distributed within power grids.
Blackouts happen—we accept this as a fact of life. From human error to environmental factors like high winds and lightning storms, many things can plunge us into darkness. But what if this wasn’t the case? What if blackouts became a thing of the past?
According to a study published by researchers from UBC’s School of Engineering, they may well soon be. The team is redesigning how electricity is distributed within power grids and if successful, it could put an end to blackouts and brownouts, a drop in voltage in an electrical power supply system.
A System Consisting of ‘Microgrids’
The research paper describes a power system that consists of multiple microgrids—separate power grids that operate as “individual islands that can disconnect from the main power supply and run independently.” These so-called island systems will be able to provide smaller geographic areas with powers, such as cities and larger neighborhoods, should the primary power grid fail.
"The microgrid will recognize the problem in the main power system and will isolate itself, avoiding previously inevitable power outages," explains Yuri Rodrigues, a UBCO electrical engineering doctoral student and study co-author.
The result of this is a system that can provide electricity round-the-clock, regardless of the status of the main power supply or the conditions outside.
"In this operating mode, the main country-wide interconnected power grid as we know would represent the power grid in regular operating mode," lead author Rodrigues added.
If a failure occurs in the main grid and leads to transmission lines becoming inoperable, smaller areas will be able to “island” from the primary network and avoid an otherwise inevitable blackout. Once the microgrid has separated itself from the primary grid, power is generated using local reserves.
Morad Abdelaziz and Yuri Rodrigues from the University of British Columbia - Okanagan Campus, the primary researchers that studied the impact of microgrids on the distribution of electrical power in power grids. Image used courtesy of UBCO
Distributing Power at a Diluted Level
Of course, the power supply and how long it lasts will depend heavily on local generating reserves. This means that energy conservation is vital to keeping microgrids operational for as long as possible. When separated from the main grid, microgrids operate in a sort-of “eco mode” where power is distributed at a slightly diluted level which allows power to flow for longer without negatively impacting electronics or running out. This more sustainable approach enables the microgrids to conserve power so that any shortfalls can be managed by the microgrid itself.
This brand-new approach of conserving power within microgrids, thereby reducing the frequency of or eliminating entirely blackouts and brownouts, may soon be an option for power systems worldwide. It would also facilitate global energy conservation and decrease network demands.
According to Rodrigues, their testing shows that this approach can enhance microgrid autonomy and stability without an impact on the wider power grid.