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2012 -13 Seminars


Taking the Information Infrastructure and the Human Factors into Account when Assessing the Risk of Blackouts

Daniel Kirschen
Donald W. and Ruth Mary Close Professor of Electrical Engineering
University of Washington

Abstract
Supplying electric power requires a large and very visible electrical infrastructure made of transmission lines, substations and generating plants. Nowadays however, these components cannot operate without the assistance of a much more concealed information infrastructure of communication links, instrumentation and control centers. Questions have begun to be raised about the negative impact that this increasing reliance on the information infrastructure might have on the resilience of the power system. Reports on major incidents have mentioned malfunctions or inadequacies in the control and communication systems as contributing factors to the degradation of the situation which ultimately led to blackouts. It is therefore important and urgent to understand the mechanisms through which failures in the information infrastructure can endanger the security of the power system. Once these mechanisms are understood, we must quantify their potential impact. Finally, on the basis of this quantification we must then develop techniques to maintain or enhance the overall robustness of the system. The framework that is traditionally used to assess the security of power systems is not suitable for these tasks because it does not consider explicitly the information infrastructure. The main purpose of this presentation is thus to propose a new framework that clarifies the interactions between the primary “electrical” and the secondary “information” infrastructures in terms of security. Based on this framework, we will then outline a set of research issues and challenges that deserve attention.