Streamlining situational awareness

ASU researchers invent new algorithm to improve power grid reliability, safety

May 4, 2023

Reliable and safe electric power is the heartbeat of modern society. Anyone who has lost power for a significant amount of time knows how much it can upend life, from food spoiling without proper refrigeration to being unable to work because essential equipment can’t be powered on.

Mojdeh Khorsand Hedman, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, and her doctoral student Zahra Soltani have developed an algorithm to reduce the impact of power outages and malfunction damage to devices connected to the power grid. Electrical engineering doctoral student Zahra Soltani and Assistant Professor of electrical engineering Mojdeh Khorsand Hedman together in a computer lab. Electrical engineering doctoral student Zahra Soltani (left) and Assistant Professor of electrical engineering Mojdeh Khorsand Hedman operate a computer program to monitor power grid status. The pair developed an algorithm to improve electrical grid situational awareness. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

“This technology enhances situational awareness, which is key for improving power system resilience,” Khorsand Hedman said.

Assessing the situation of the power grid

Having power grid situational awareness means knowing the current status of three power grid parameters: network connectivity, referred to as breaker or switch status; the system state, which is the current voltage and power level flowing through the grid; and the location of outages affecting the grid.

Currently, situational awareness technology uses two software modules to measure these parameters. One module verifies topology information that indicates which medium voltage lines, used for power distribution to customers, are live, reflecting network connectivity and switch status. The other module determines system state.

“These functionalities are highly dependent on the availability of measurements throughout the distribution network,” Khorsand Hedman said. “Such measurement devices are scarce and often not available. Thus, these modules are not fully utilized.”

This new, more complex algorithm developed by Khorsand Hedman and Soltani identifies all the necessary parameters at once while improving accuracy and the speed at which the network connectivity and system states are identified.

Instead of using measurements from a limited number of devices that may not provide the full picture of a grid’s status, Khorsand Hedman and Soltani’s algorithm uses data from homes’ individual smart meters. This eliminates the need to install a large number of measurement devices in a power grid’s distribution network and telecommunication of the devices’ data to utility control centers.

The growing presence of electric vehicles and distributed power generation resources — like those generating electricity in areas scattered around the grid through devices such as solar technology and windmills — inspired Soltani to come up with the idea for the algorithm.

“Successful transition from the conventional distribution system to this new paradigm requires accurate distribution network modeling and efficient management of these resources,” she said.

Soltani explained that greater accuracy in situational awareness is necessary because modern grids’ increasingly distributed energy resources cause higher variability in grid conditions. Some of the power flows back into the high-voltage grid from these resources, and the variability in the amount of power generated creates fluctuations in the net demand the grid experiences, as well as both the amount and direction of power flow.

The research provided Soltani with the chance to advance her skills in using math and data to model and optimize power grid functions. Ultimately, she plans to continue using these skills after graduation in her career.

“Working with Dr. Khorsand Hedman has been a valuable experience for me,” Soltani said. “Her knowledge and expertise in power systems and optimization, as well as her mentorship and guidance, were invaluable in my research.”

Amping up electric utility service

The researchers intend for the technology, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, or ARPA-E, to improve electric power service for customers by reducing the duration of outages and making the voltage sent to customers more stable. This can also reduce the potential impact of damage due to malfunctions to devices plugged into the grid.

By being able to pinpoint power grid issues with greater accuracy and speed, the new algorithm helps make utility workers' jobs easier and solve outages and malfunctions faster. This increased situational awareness also helps electric utilities determine local demand and fulfill it based on distributed power generation resources like rooftop solar panels.

Khorsand Hedman and Soltani successfully tested the algorithm with an electric utility company in Arizona. Currently, the technology has a provisional patent, which means the researchers have 12 months of protection on their technology until a permanent patent is filed. ASU is also in discussions with interested industry parties to license the technology.

Demonstrating algorithmic capabilities in a lab setting

Khorsand Hedman’s students can look forward to getting a firsthand look at how their research can impact power grid workers’ experience. She is in the process of developing a lab that simulates a utility company’s control room. This lab will demonstrate her and Soltani’s algorithm, as well as other power grid algorithmic innovations, to show off its capabilities compared to traditional solutions.

The lab will also let electrical engineering students gain experience working in a simulated utility control room environment using the various types of software they would work with at a utility company.

“The lab promotes and facilitates collaboration,” Khorsand Hedman said. “It will be used to enhance the learning experience for students in power courses, especially our graduate-level course, Power Systems Operation and Planning.”

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Lifelong Sun Devil, graduate emphasizes personal growth

May 4, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

At 14 years old, Jackson Carrion attended his first Arizona State University football game with his grandpa, who was a season ticket holder. Since then, he has been a Sun Devil for life. headshot of man outside Jackson Carrion is graduating this spring with a master’s degree in biomedical informatics at the College of Health Solutions. After graduating, he will pursue a PhD in computational and systems biology at MIT. He looks forward to developing and applying new artificial intelligence tools in order to better explore drug discovery. Download Full Image

“I quickly realized that colleges like ASU are more like a community instead of a school. Seeing the students come together, forget about the struggles of class and work, and just have a good time was really exciting and made ASU my No. 1 choice,” said Carrion, who is graduating this spring with a master’s degree in biomedical informatics at the College of Health Solutions.

Throughout his time at ASU, Carrion has learned the importance of being OK with failure, especially in research. Carrion has conducted extensive research for the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, learning along the way that not every experiment will result in a successful outcome. His advice for those still in school is to embrace failure as a learning opportunity.

“Everyone makes mistakes, but being able to identify where the mistake was made and correct it in the future is a crucial step in growing as a researcher,” he said.

After graduation, Carrion will be attending MIT to pursue a PhD in computational and systems biology. He looks forward to developing and applying new artificial intelligence tools in order to better explore drug discovery.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My biggest "aha" moment was definitely the development of AlphaFold2. AlphaFold2 is a piece of software that can use AI in order to construct protein structures with very high accuracy. With my experience in structural biology, it can take years to solve just one protein structure, but AlphaFold2 can solve every protein in the human body in just a few months. AI and machine learning have the ability to accelerate science exponentially, and this has a huge impact on many fields, like drug discovery, immunology, enzymology and much more. Combining AI with biology can allow researchers to solve some of the most complex diseases and disorders for only a fraction of the price and time.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned that collaborating on projects and making connections is the key to becoming a successful researcher. ASU is full of students with such diverse backgrounds. Being able to talk to people from fields that I didn’t know existed allowed me to grow and learn much more than I ever thought was possible. I firmly believe in the saying, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” Networking with people and experts from various fields can help us learn more about research as well as ourselves.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Jay-How Yang was by far my most influential professor. We have worked countless hours in the lab together, and the best advice he has given me was to not be one-dimensional. In the classroom and in textbooks there is usually one correct answer, but in the lab and in the real world there are many ways to solve a problem. Learning to be multidimensional and solve problems in a variety of ways has helped me become a better researcher and student in general.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite place on campus is the Bateman Physical Sciences building, where the pendulum swings. I have spent countless hours in the Physical Sciences building conducting research, and whenever I have a slight break, I love to come down to the first floor and just watch the pendulum swing. When I was in middle school, we took a tour of ASU, and the pendulum was the main thing that I remembered after leaving the field trip. It is very nostalgic and makes me feel like a young Jackson would be proud of where I am today.

A giant pendulum moves across a floor

The Foucault Pendulum, in the F-Wing of the Bateman Physical Sciences building, demonstrates the rotation of the Earth. As the pendulum ball swings back and forth, the plane of its swing appears to slowly rotate in a clockwise direction. Actually, the path of the pendulum is fixed in space, and it is the Earth — and the pendulum pit — that slowly turns beneath the ball. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would definitely focus on solving a cure for Alzheimer’s. When I first entered ASU, I was very interested in how such a disease could affect a person so dramatically, especially since losing my memories and knowledge is one of my greatest fears. Within these past four years, the advancements in Alzheimer’s research has grown exponentially. From what seemed to be an impossible task, developing not only an understanding but a cure is now a great possibility within the next 10 to 20 years. With multi-omics bioinformatics and structural biology, learning the system and etiologyThe cause, set of causes, or manner of causation of a disease or condition. of this disease is more feasible than ever.

Student worker IV/Marketing Assistant, Knowledge Enterprise