October 2017

Electric Grid Resiliency: Call for Action on a National Scale

Badri Roysam

NAE Report

William Sanders
Dear ECEDHA Members, Industry Partners, and Colleagues,

Outages caused by (distressingly frequent) large-scale natural events, human caused events including physical and cyber-attacks, and accidental failures, have called attention to the next major human need – the need for a more resilient electric grid. The grid is a sprawling, complex, and heterogeneous cyber-physical system, the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century, that has become essential for our daily activities, health, prosperity, and increasingly, for life safety and security. Despite major efforts, a large-scale outage over a wide geographic area and/or an extended duration can still occur.

This brings the topic of grid resiliency – the capacity to recover from a major perturbation, to the fore. Resiliency is much broader in scope than the notion of reliability, and focuses on ways to cope with large-scale outages that ultimately do happen. To quote a recent National Academy of Engineering (NAE) report “Resilience is not just about being able to lessen the likelihood that outages will occur, but also about managing and coping with outage events as they occur to lessen their impacts, regrouping quickly and efficiently once an event ends, and learning to better deal with other events in the future.” Grid Resilience is a quintessentially ECE topic.

The grid is classic ECE territory - it is a fertile playground for ECE innovations and educational activities. Therefore, it is not surprising that government leaders look to ECE leaders for unbiased advice. Recently, ECE Department Head William Sanders at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a member of ECEDHA’s Board of Directors, together with colleagues Carl Imhoff (Pacific Northwest National Labs), Gavin Dillingham (Houston Advanced Research Center, and Walt Baum (Texas Public Power Association) served on a Congressional hearing titled “Resiliency: the Electric Grid’s Only Hope” held by the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology led by Congressman Lamar Smith (TX). This meeting was on October 3rd at the Rayburn House Office Building, and a full video recording of the testimony can be found at this link.

Prior to the above-mentioned event, the NAE published a 170-page consensus study report titled “Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System,” of which Bill Sanders was a co-author as well. This report is definitely worth reading for ECE Department Heads – it has the potential to influence plans for future faculty hiring, educational offerings, and laboratory investments.

Meeting the call for a resilient grid will entail a significant long-term public investment, including investments in education, training, computational modeling, standards & codes, and new technology development. Making the case for an investment is just the first step. Once the investment is made, we will need to undertake a bold re-thinking of the nation’s future electricity supply system, including the role of distributed generation and renewable energy, and develop ways to cope with threats that have not been encountered before. This will require a wide array of ECE technologies including:

  • large-scale distributed system resiliency modeling under previously unseen combinations of adverse events,
  • resilient control systems capable of operating under damaged conditions,
  • resilience-oriented microgrid designs,
  • smart & agile power handling systems,
  • resilient real-time communication network design,
  • cyber security for distributed cyber-physical systems,
  • drones and autonomous repair systems,
  • agile power system operator logistics,
  • agile energy storage systems,
  • reliable power electronic systems,
  • new sensors and sensor fusion algorithms,
  • signal processing systems,
  • machine learning, big-data analytics, game theory, & artificial intelligence.

Importantly, we need methods to understand “non-ECE” barriers to technology adoption. We will need to strengthen our collaborations with grid operators, national labs, economists, mathematicians, business school faculty, and political science faculty – this project has too many non-ECE facets for us to go it alone!

Welcome to the era of The Resilient Grid.


Badri Roysam
Professor and Chair, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Houston
2017-2018 Editor-in-Chief, The ECE Source Newsletter

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