Faster, smarter decisions in power grid extreme events aim of research

By Siddharth Vodnala, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

Developing software tools to help power grid operators make good decisions in major emergencies like hurricanes or cyber attacks, is the focus of Washington State University researchers supported by a new National Science Foundation grant.

Closeup of Srivastava.

An interdisciplinary group of WSU researchers led by Anurag Srivastava, associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create software tools and simulators to enable efficient decision making by power grid operators.

Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico last year, caused a months-long blackout in the island. In 2017, hackers launched major cyber attacks on government and private organizations in Ukraine.

The researchers’ goal is to help operators quickly find solutions in such situations and make it less stressful for them to deal with extreme events.

The group will create machine learning based tools to pinpoint potential causes of a disruption or emergency in a few seconds.

“They will help operators figure out what’s going on and show them potential actions to take to minimize the disruption,” said Srivastava.

While emergency management systems for power grids already exist, the researchers are hoping to help operators respond quickly in a major emergency with assistance from computer software.

The software tools the researchers create will learn from previous emergencies, rendering them better over time.

The researchers also will create training simulators for operators to practice on to help them respond more effectively in the case of a real emergency.

“After going through our simulators, operators will be able to better respond to a hurricane and other emergencies,” said Srivastava.

To create such simulators, the group will first analyze the ability of operators to focus on specific information and their ability to adapt in response to environmental feedback using psychological tests.

They also plan to research the best ways to present information to operators to help them easily understand and make decisions based on the information.

The researchers include experts in power engineering, cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science and cybersecurity.

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