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Researchers Will Study How to Restore Power on Wind-dominant Grids After a Blackout

image credit: Composite radar images of the August 10 derecho as it crossed Iowa and the Midwest. Credit: National Weather Service

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DW Keefer is a Denver-based energy journalist who writes extensively for national and international publications on all forms of electric power generation, utility regulation, business models...

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Researchers at Iowa State University will study how best to restore power on wind-dominant electric grids after a blackout.

Iowa now generates more than 40% of its electricity from wind power. But wind-dominant electric grids aren't designed to meet a typical, step-by-step blackout recovery after storms such as the Aug. 10 derecho that blew across the state.  The storm packed wind gusts estimated of up to 140 mph that cut power to about half a million Iowans.

Iowa State's Hugo Villegas Pico will lead a team that will examine how to orchestrate the restoration of wind-dominant grids. The project is supported by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. MidAmerican Energy Co. and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center in Colorado will support the project.

Villegas Pico proposes several possible solutions, including:

  • Regulators to actively control the amount of power harvested by wind turbines, giving utilities more ability to balance power generation and demand.
  • Regulators that allow turbines’ power converters to withstand transient surges from transformers and motors during black starts.
  • Novel automatic synchronization methods that keep turbines operating together, even without the aid of conventional power generators such as gas turbines.

Villegas Pico points out that it’s virtually impossible to script a black start for a wind-dominant grid because the wind resources are variable. Different wind conditions require different plans. His idea is to combine modern artificial intelligence tools with new forecasting models to create restoration plans on the fly that could be orchestrated by a computer.

The project will also examine the use of batteries to store a minimum amount of energy for the black-start process of wind energy systems.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in July 2019 it would develop a North American Energy Resilience Model, in part, because of emerging threats to the power grid from extreme storms as well as cyber and physical attacks.


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