Research seeks to improve electrical system against weather outages

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Determining how to improve the resilience of power grid structures in the face of outages from severe weather events is the focus of a multidisciplinary study by Purdue professors.The project, “Towards a Resilient Grid: An Investment Prioritization Decision Framework that Integrates the Growing Risks of Severe Weather-Induced Outages,” received a $468,851 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project team is led by Makarand Hastak, head of construction engineering and management and professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering; Roshanak Nateghi, an assistant professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and in Environmental and Ecological Engineering; and Wallace E. Tyner, a professor in agricultural economics. Sayanti Mukherjee, a recent PhD graduate, will be working on the project as a postdoctoral research assistant.

It is estimated that electrical outages have cost the U.S. economy $20-$55 billion annually from 2003-12. In Florida, emergency officials have indicated more than 3.7 million customers — or more than 36 percent — were without power following Hurricane Irma.Current methods, however, undervalue the link between outages and the costs to society and the economy, despite severe weather outages that result in multi-billion dollar damages affecting hundreds of millions of people each year.

“As we have seen from the recent events due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, that resilience of power grid infrastructure is very important from a social and economic perspective,” Hastak said. “Even after investing millions of dollars in upgrading their grid, Florida Power and Light is still facing prolonged power outages which might even take weeks to recover. We want to understand what investment decisions are necessary to further mitigate those risks.”

​​The project seeks to develop algorithm-based new risk assessment models that can better link outages and the resulting societal costs and deal with the complex uncertainties of weather-related extreme events.
Models will estimate the compounding economic losses and optimization techniques will determine the best strategies for improving power grid structures.Tyner said the project will examine mainly regional case studies and is intended to bring about an understanding of the system as well as improvements.“The problem is that it is difficult for utilities to be reimbursed for their expenditures on increasing the grid reliability,” he said. “Utility commissions want to pay for electricity generation and distribution, and they have yet to appreciate the importance of expenditures on reliability.”

The project will integrate expertise from infrastructure management, energy infrastructure performance analysis, risk analysis, sustainability and resilience assessment, energy economics and policy analysis.