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Toward a Smarter Grid


The U.S. electrical power grid is evolving.

Steven Low of the California Institute of Technology says we are on the cusp of a historic transformation in the electrical power grid.

Credit: Associated Press

California Institute of Technology professor Steven Low believes the electric grid is on the verge of accommodating distributed, interconnected, and omnipresent intelligence.

His vision is that inexpensive computers and sensors will enable active, intelligent endpoints that can produce, sense, communicate, compute, and respond. Low expects the grid to evolve into "the largest and most complex cyberphysical system ever seen."

Low's team, which combines expertise in computing, engineering, control theory, and economics, aims to guide the grid's transformation and ensure its proper management by developing underlying devices, systems, theories, and algorithms.

One project focusing on engineering sought to address the optimal power flow problem, resulting in the ability to compute a solution and then determine whether it is globally optimal for nearly all distribution systems.

Another initiative seeks to anticipate the number of home/business owners likely to install rooftop solar panels as far as three decades out, so utilities can plan appropriately.

Low's team also devised an approach to handling demand response so the grid is not overtaxed while eliminating a lag between consumers and utilities. The researchers did this by having consumers preemptively enter their sensitivity to various prices on their smart devices, which then send that data to the algorithm that operates the network.

From California Institute of Technology
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