Ian Dobson, Ph.D.
Iowa State University
November 9, 2012
2:00 - 3:00 pm
Livak Ballroom, Dudley H. Davis Student Center
What is the risk of large blackouts such as the spectacular cascading blackout in August 2003 that cut electrical power to 50 million North Americans? This question matters because maintaining the reliability of electrical supply is key to transforming our energy system. Large blackouts, although rare, occur more frequently than expected. Indeed the empirical probability distribution of blackout sizes shows a power law similar to that observed in other complex systems near criticality. Large blackouts are usually caused by a sequence of cascading failures in which dependent failures successively weaken the power network. We discuss criticality and power laws in probabilistic and power network simulation models of cascading failure.
Why would a power network be designed and operated near a critical loading? We propose that economic and engineering feedbacks could slowly self-organize the power network to be operated near criticality. That is, engineered power networks may evolve towards power law probability distributions of blackout size. Different engineering policies for mitigating cascading blackouts give different feedbacks and different outcomes for a new long-term risk analysis.
This research is joint work with Ben Carreras (BACV solutions, Oak Ridge TN), David Newman (University of Alaska-Fairbanks), and Hui Ren (North China Electric Power University).
Ian Dobson was educated at Cambridge and Cornell and has worked as a systems analyst in British industry and as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently Sandbulte professor of electrical engineering at Iowa State University. Ian has worked on avoiding voltage collapse blackouts, stability of power and power electronic systems, and various other applications of nonlinear dynamics and chaos. His current interests include power system reliability, smart grid monitoring, a complex systems approach to engineered systems, and a new risk analysis for cascading failure (see iandobson.ece.iastate.edu). Ian is a fellow of the IEEE.
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