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Breakthroughs Magazine

Solutions Update

Keeping the power on by linking the grid

On the afternoon of August 14, 2003, an estimated 50 million people in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and part of Canada suddenly lost electric power in a blackout that lasted up to four days in some areas. The massive outage represented 61,800 megawatts of lost power, cost the United States an estimated $10 billion, and drew attention to a critical need for improved power system reliability, especially improved information sharing, monitoring and control between regional power grids.

In summer 2004, the first data management and monitoring systems of five regional power grids—from New York State west to Ohio and Missouri and south to Louisiana and Alabama—were successfully connected as a result of efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy's Eastern Interconnection Phasor Project (EIPP). EIPP was formed in late 2003 to assess causes for the blackout and find solutions to prevent such outages from recurring.

Although the regional power systems had been interconnected to route electricity between utilities, information had not been shared efficiently. As the U.S-Canada Power System Outage Task Force reported on the August 2003 blackout, there was "no consistent means across the Eastern Interconnection to provide an understanding of the status of the power grid outside of a control area." Had such a data management and monitoring system been in place, the August 2003 power outage might have been avoided.

Staff from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have been leading the EIPP effort to create a robust, widely available and secure synchronized data management and communication infrastructure over the Eastern power grid.

The EIPP comprises research entities from industry, academia and the national laboratories under the direction of the Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions. The EIPP's mission includes installing high-fidelity grid monitoring instruments and developing associated analysis and monitoring tools (software and hardware) to enable better planning, operation and improved reliability over the power grid.

The 2004 data connection represents a major milestone in Phase 1 of EIPP's mission and the first time that five financially independent regional entities will share "phasor" measurement information. Phasors are derived measurements of the power grid that include more information than traditional measurements. Early participants include the New York Power Authority, the New York Independent System Operator, Tennessee Valley Authority, Entergy, American Electric Power and Ameren. The five regions will use the Wide-Area Measurement System (WAMS) developed with PNNL participation for the Western United States and applied with modifications to the Eastern grid.

WAMS includes applications for monitoring transmission lines and power corridors over wide areas and using time-synchronized (phasor) data and measuring devices to sample voltage and current. Software applications have been developed to collect, compile and analyze the data.

Using WAMS will enhance power grid performance by enabling system operators to monitor power usage and anticipate problems before they occur. The five connected regions will benefit because system operators will have a comprehensive view of the entire system over a wide area and the ability to rapidly assess conditions in real time.

Phase 1 of the project will continue through the end of 2004, when additional information networks will be linked and made available to system operators and reliability coordinators across power grids. In Phase 2, hardware and software systems will be installed at additional locations to enhance remedial action plans, support state power estimators and provide system operators with additional tools for intuitive system monitoring. Standards will also be established for utilities communications, protocols and purchasing related equipment. By the end of Phase 2, the EIPP anticipates that hundreds of time-synchronized utility data management and control systems will be part of a dynamic information network across power grids.


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