Terrorists in Columbia attack the country's transmission grid hundreds of times in a year. There is nothing in place right now to stop the same from happening in North America and Europe. On top of that, illegal marijuana grow operations and other illicit activities steal millions of dollars of electricity from utilities, which ordinary customers like you and me end up subsidizing. After 9/11 and with the threat of more attacks increasing, our utilities are vulnerable. In the USA alone, the Department of Energy reported the country had 157,810 miles of transmission lines that carried 3.97 billion megawatt hours of electricity in 2004.
"With the increasing threat of terrorism around the world, more attention is being paid to the security of the transmission infrastructure," says a summary of the project. "Experiences in countries like Columbia, which has faced as many as 200 terrorist attacks on its transmission infrastructure per year, demonstrate the vulnerability of the power system to these kinds of events."
Iowa State researchers Arun Somani and Jerry R. Junkins are developing a network of wireless sensors capable of monitoring the country's electrical grid. It's an engineering challenge because of the complexity of the grid and its large number of interconnected systems. While the sensors could pick up suspicious activity at power poles, they'll be especially useful at quickly locating any breakdowns. That could allow power companies to react in time to prevent power disruptions from cascading into blackouts.
And the monitoring system could also help power companies quickly locate problems when severe weather tears down electrical lines.
With networks of sensors, "Power companies would have additional abilities to view their systems and that would assist in disaster recovery," Somani said.
The sensors are capable of watching out for conductor failures, tower collapses, hot spots and other extreme conditions. A tiny camera can also be mounted in the sensor to look for suspicious movements around power lines.
The researchers need to design a system that stands up to weather. They need to design sensors that can accurately monitor the power grid's electrical and mechanical characteristics. They need to find a way to monitor the area around electrical equipment for suspicious activity. They need to develop wireless communication networks so the sensors can send comprehensive data from far-flung areas to control centers. They need to design a diagnosis algorithm to accurately determine fault conditions and predict faults. They need to design a decision algorithm to reconfigure the power network to prevent or alleviate cascading failures. And they need to find ways to get electricity to the sensors because the electrical lines they're monitoring carry a different kind of power.
Somani said the researchers are making good progress on developing a prototype system. He said the research team is also starting to talk to power companies about the possibility of testing the system on the electrical grid. And he said project has implications for national security.
Source: see full Iowa State University press release
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