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Kansas Winds Could Help Avoid Widespread Power Outages

Wind turbines at dusk (NREL)

(National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

A graduate student at Kansas State University in Manhattan is conducting research that shows how distributed energy sources like wind power can help reduce widespread power outages. Engineering doctoral student Sakshi Pahwa presented her findings earlier this year at the Capitol Graduate Research Summit in Topeka, Kansas.

The research looks into distributed energy sources as a way to avoid cascading failures in power grids. A cascading failure occurs when an interconnected part of a power system fails and then triggers successive parts to fail. A cascading failure, for example, preceded the northeast U.S. blackout of 2003 that affected 55 million people in the United States and Canada.

To prevent cascading failures, researchers are investigating a technique called islanding, which confines the impact of a power system fault to a small area. Islanding prevents this fault from affecting other areas and stops further disturbances in the network.

Pahwa analyzed a power grid, and applied the idea of islanding with a network partitioning algorithm, which allows for disconnecting an affected portion of the network. “That disconnected portion can then be powered using renewable or distributed energy sources such as wind turbines or solar panels,” says Pahwa, with the remaining parts continuing with conventional sources.

The Kansas wind, considered an abundant natural resource, can provide abundant renewable energy that could power the disconnected portion of the network. In the data collecting and testing phases of the research, Pahwa plans to use the university’s wind turbine north of campus, as well as four other operating wind turbines in the surrounding county.

Pahwa’s research aims to study not only the theoretical problem, but also provide practical solutions. The research can help utilities meet the state’s 2009 Renewable Energy Standards Act that calls for major utilities to generate about 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2011 and 20 percent by 2020. Pahwa’s research received support from the four companies involved in the university’s Electrical Power Affiliates Program.

Read more: Formula Devised to Better Place Wind Farm Turbines

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