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"True Grid" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Scientists at Northwestern University have identified conditions and properties that power companies can consider using to keep power generators in a desired synchronized state and help make a self-healing power grid a reality.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

More power to ya.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: large scale power down sound) The northeast power blackout of 2003: Millions powerless. (Sound effect: football crowd) The more recent super 'blackout' bowl caused, oddly enough by a device put in to place to prevent blackouts. Most of us don't think about power or the power grid until we're in an outage. Scientists at Northwestern University are thinking about it and have developed guidelines for what could be described as a 'self-healing' power grid.

(Sound effect: electrical hum) For the U.S. power grid to function, the generators in the country's three interconnections Eastern, Western and Texas must be synchronized, all operating at the same frequency of 60 hertz. If generators go out of synch, serious blackouts can occur. To restore power, control devices are used to bring the generators back to a synchronized state but it's like giving medicine to a sick patient. (Sound effect: heart monitor) Now the scientists have identified ways to help keep the patient from getting sick in the first place--ways to keep the grid stable and in synch.

They demonstrated their model using real power grids of hundreds of power generators.

The researchers say this preventive-care approach could avoid failures, make the grid more reliable and more capable and even help reduce electricity costs. (Sound effect: small jolt) Some 'powerful' stuff.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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