Increasing demands on an aging U.S. power infrastructure made headlines last summer as temperatures in the Midwest and South topped 100 degrees.
One reason for the increased stress: The nation’s economic growth since the 1950s has “outstripped the growth of the power system,” says Mariesa Crow, the Fred W. Finley Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Crow, who conducts research on how large and complex power systems function, says high demands for electricity during heat waves create the potential for widespread outages. “The problem we have is trying to ship power from one place to another over long distances,” explains Crow, who also directs UMR’s Energy Research and Development Center. “Most major power plants are located in remote areas away from large cities.”
Possible solutions to this problem, according to Crow, include building smaller power stations closer to population centers in order to generate electricity during critical times or even to plan rotating blackouts to alleviate stress on the system as a whole.
One of Crow’s colleagues, Badrul Chowdhury, is investigating how wind farms, fuel cells and other distributed sources of energy could help stabilize the system by remaining online even when major power lines and generating plants are lost.
An additional advantage of these distributed energy sources is that they are environmentally cleaner and therefore provide an attractive option for use within city limits, says Chowdhury, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMR.