Kolla's Fulbright work aimed at keeping the power on

Aug. 14 marks the fifth anniversary of the largest blackout ever to hit the United States. About 50 million people were left in the dark when the power went out in eight states from Ohio to the east coast.

Dr. Sri Kolla

Parts of Ontario were also affected by the blackout, which an investigative task force labeled as preventable. The task force said that operators for Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. should have contained three power-line failures before the outage “cascaded,” and the company admitted that its computer alarm systems didn’t function.

In short, says Dr. Sri Kolla, electronics and computer technology, the blackout became a major one “because some schemes didn’t work properly.” Trying to improve those computerized systems, through a new algorithm, is one aspect of the work Kolla will be doing in India for the next nine months as a Fulbright Research Scholar.

He will be leaving next week for the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, where he will collaborate with electrical engineering faculty on development of protection and control schemes for electric energy systems.

Kolla says significant study of power-grid protection in India has helped make the combined research possible. A few years ago, a faculty member from the Indian Institute of Science made a presentation at BGSU about alleviating power network overloads and, in 2006, Kolla visited Indian universities with a presentation about “intelligent” systems applications to electric power systems.

“There is an ongoing, collaborative effort, and this will be enhanced once I go there,” proving beneficial to both India and the United States, he says.

A recent Bowling Green graduate student applied artificial neural (intelligent) networks—another computer algorithm—to electrical motor protection schemes, so Kolla and his colleagues are also looking to extend protection to smaller components within the larger power system.

Control, meanwhile, refers in this context to the need to control electrical generators to meet demand in the system. To regulate those generators, he says, control algorithms are needed that look at how much electricity must be generated. And the introduction of alternative energies such as solar and wind power creates new challenges in this area, he adds.

Tying the pieces of the power grid together are control, or operations, centers with controllers who are networked together. FirstEnergy has such a center in the Akron area, as does American Electric Power Co. in Columbus, notes Kolla, who is also working on an algorithm to better coordinate the network controllers.

He points out that current energy issues make the research particularly relevant. “The worldwide energy shortage brings the importance of efficient operation of electric energy systems to the fore,” he says.

August 4, 2008