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The Near-Term Fix

How to mitigate transmission risk before the next big blackout.
Fortnightly Magazine - November 1 2003
  • and transmission data are just a few examples of the types of improvements that need to be made in monitoring the operating condition of the systems.

  • Analyze and Synthesize: The Best Defense

    All the data under the sun is of no use, of course, without efficient analysis and synthesis tools. Keep in mind that every control area needs to conduct this type of analysis, not only with information pertaining to their network, but to all those connected. Enhanced weather, generation, and transmission data can be used as inputs into dynamic capacity models that provide real-time, detailed views of capacity and utilization. More granular data also would improve load model accuracy, as well as short-term neural network-based models and medium-term statistical models.

    Analysis takes raw data and applies it to specific models and criteria to present basic information on the condition of the transmission systems. This is where a rigorous process stops in most companies. Synthesis-the systematic combining of analyses to gain complete understanding of the operational condition of the transmission grid-also is needed. Most analytics used by utilities today are developed in-house, but there are many decision-support tools in industrial as well as academic development.

    Dan Saaty, an independent consultant in decision theory and analysis, explains. "It is almost impossible for a single person or group of people to make optimal decisions when dealing with systems as large, complex, and fast-moving as the electric transmission system," he says. "A tested, rigorous process is needed to make these efficiently and ultimately, to meet with successful results." Saaty uses an analytic hierarchy process (AHP) to synthesize the analysis required to make complex and potentially costly (or risky) decisions.

  • Develop Hair-Trigger Reaction Times

    Efficient, real-time analysis must lead to reactions in kind. In the near term, this means implementing an organizational decision-making process that makes efficient use of analysis results.

    However, technological upgrades in this area are imminent. There is no time for even a split-second delay in responding to the most critical problems. New technology in digital switching-for instance, technology currently being developed by an EPRI consortium to operate at light speed-would make much better use of the current infrastructure. And while the implementation of digital switching will be costly, it is nothing compared with rebuilding the grid-$50 billion, as estimated by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. And it's a bargain compared with the annual cost of outages to the economy.

    Enhanced alerting and communication systems may be a faster, more simple improvement. Custom alerting systems, which allow administrators to instantaneously broadcast alerts to networks of professionals, may allow for the specific one-to-many type of communication needed when reporting critical system status information. Would the Aug. 14 blackout have been better handled if everyone at ITC, First Energy, MISO, AEP, TransElect, and other affected entities had been notified of the system condition at the same time?

  • The Master Plan

    The planning stage makes use of information gathered and actions taken during previous stages, in preparation for future similar events. This places value on constant learning within a transmission operation. Again, the intended cycle time for