ECpE-Faculty to be featured in Discover Magazine

Article written for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Online version can be accessed here.

February 10, 2016

Sandbulte professor, Ian Dobson, will be featured in Discover Magazine’s lead article for the March 2016 issue. Dobson’s research with physicists, Ben Carreras and David Newman, on the risk of large blackouts is described in detail in Discover’s article, “Averting the Blackout of the Century,” by journalist, Peter Fairley.

Dobson and his team’s work with large grid power systems is primarily focused on the patterns of widespread blackouts and how these patterns arise. By working with a simulator that can imitate large blackouts, the trio concluded that big blackouts, although rare,  are occasionally going to happen  because of the way that the power grid evolves over the years to balance cost and reliability.  The simulator predicts the same pattern of blackout reliability as is seen in historical records of blackouts. Dobson said working with Carreras and Newman for the past 20 years has been the highlight of his career.

“It has been a close collaboration between the three of us,” Dobson said. “You can hardly tell whose work is whose. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot.”

Going forward, the trio plans to refine tools to advise grid operators on when and how to act to reduce blackout risk.

“We think we have a high-level approach and a model of the system that can give insight on how [power grids] regulate themselves over the time,” Dobson said.“We’d like to increase the detail of the simulator and deepen the validation of its results so we can anticipate problems in a particular area.”

The article is currently available online for those who subscribe to Discover Magazine. It will also appear in the March 2016 Discover print issue.

For more details, visit

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