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Pruning the Power Grid

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A view of North America from space.

A new algorithm can be used to identify failures that would be most devastating to the electrical power grid when they occur in combination.

Credit: NASA

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed an algorithm that identifies the most dangerous pairs of failures among the millions of possible failures in a power grid.

The algorithm pares down all of the possible combinations to the sets most likely to cause widespread damage.

The researchers tested their algorithm on data from a mid-sized power grid model consisting of 3,000 components, and within 10 minutes the algorithm had labeled 99 percent of the failures as relatively safe. The remaining 1 percent represented pairs of failures that would likely result in large blackouts if left unmonitored.

The speed of the new algorithm is unmatched by similar conventional alternatives, says MIT professor Konstantin Turitsyn. "This algorithm can be used to update what are the events--in real time--that are the most dangerous," he says.

Turitsyn says the algorithm identifies spheres of influence around a power failure. If two failures are relatively close, spheres of influence can overlap, intensifying the response and raising the probability of a catastrophic cascade.

"This algorithm, if massively deployed, could be used to anticipate events like the 2003 blackout by systematically discovering weaknesses in the power grid," says Columbia University professor Daniel Bienstock.

From MIT News
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