Prior Research

O ne of the main vulnerabilities of modern power distribution grids is their susceptibility to cascading failures from successive losses of transmission lines. New ways of reducing this possibility are being explored by Bruce McMillin, Frank Liu, and Daniel Tauritz (Computer Science) and Mariesa Crow, Badrul Chowdhury, Jag Sarangapani, and Sahra Sedigh (ECE).

Recent developments in power research have lead to “Flexible AC Transmission System" (FACTS) devices that modify the power flow locally within a power grid. Embedded computers within the FACTS devices form a distributed computing system that can make coordinated, rapid, changes to the power flow in the grid. If a particular transmission line becomes overloaded due to a failure of a power source, the embedded computers can re-balance the power flow before a massive, cascading power failure can occur resulting in a blackout.

Possible threats to the survivability of the system can come, not only from physical disruptions, but also from security intrusions in which a hacker may attempt to confuse the distributed control algorithms. These threats are minimized by enforcing correct operation of the computing system through ensuring that its actions correspond to the correct physical rules that govern power flow. Integrating computer control with a complex physical system requires expertise in both the computing research and power research fields. The exploratory research is an interdisciplinary collaboration combining Dr. McMillin’s work in fault tolerance and security for distributed systems, Dr. Liu’s work in hierarchical software specification, Dr. Tauritz's work in evolutionary algorithms, Dr. Crow’s work in power systems configuration, Dr. Chowdhury's work in Cascading Failure Analysis, and Dr. Sarangapani’s work in controls.

Overall scope of the project is to examine evolving system stability, economic issues, certification of the control systems and power grid design.  Our current progress and technical information on the project can be found at the project web page (this document). Our current effort is in constructing a Hardware In the Loop (HIL) FACTS interaction laboratory to study FACTS interactions and response to computer and power system failures.

This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under the MRI Program, grant number CNS--0420869 and the CSR Program, grant number CCF--0614633 (with Chris Gill at Washington University in St. Louis), and by the Department of Energy.