As technology has made public infrastructure more efficient, some areas, like electricity transmission systems, have been slow to keep up. Part of the problem, says Industrial & Systems Engineering Professor Jeffrey Linderoth (pictured), boils down to math. And as part of a Department of Energy initiative, Linderoth and ISyE Associate Professor Jim Luedtke are developing mathematical tools that can help power grid operators increase efficiency and reliability.
The physical laws governing power flow result in a seemingly contradictory notion: Adding power lines actually may reduce power grid efficiency. Yet, a technique called transmission switching could create an advantage, according to ISyE and Computer Sciences Professor Michael Ferris and colleagues. In transmission switching, certain transmission lines turn off or on in response to the grid’s overall demand. By turning lines off in an “optimal” fashion—thus altering the power flow over the grid—Ferris’ team concluded that savings of up to 25 percent in electricity costs could be achieved.
Yet, finding the right combinations of lines to turn off and on is computationally demanding—and each possible combination affects the overall efficiency in a complicated manner. Linderoth and Luedtke are developing new mathematical tools that will help solve this switching optimization problem—yielding operational efficiencies that could mean savings for utilities and their customers. “I think if you ask power system operators why they aren’t planning with respect to uncertainty,” says Linderoth, “they’ll say that the mathematical tools aren’t good enough to solve the planning problems right now. Creating those tools is one goal of this project.”
Read more: go.wisc.edu/math-and-the-grid