Detecting short circuits by going back in time | 7/10/2017 | Staff
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It took EPFL researchers only three minutes to detect and locate a short circuit triggered intentionally in the power grid serving Fribourg Canton. The researchers, using a computer and a single sensor, spotted it by "going back in time" to find the origin of the problem. Their highly promising method could make it easier to manage complicated power grids, especially those incorporating renewable energies.

Swiss power utility Groupe E agreed to trigger a short circuit in its power grid so that EPFL researchers could test their revolutionary technology. Their approach uses time reversal to spot a disturbance in a grid, and it requires nothing more than a sensor coupled with an algorithm – making it potentially cheaper and more efficient than existing systems.

Tests - Substation - City - Cressier - Fribourg

The tests were carried out on the high-voltage substation serving the city of Cressier in Fribourg Canton. A team of EPFL researchers working inside the substation connected a computer to a sensor that had been installed at a specific point in the grid. Once the connection was established, Groupe E's operators triggered a short circuit, or more specifically a ground fault, in a section containing nearly 12km of power lines. Thanks to their algorithm, the researchers were able to pinpoint the exact spot of the short circuit in less than three minutes and determine which of the line's three phases had been affected. "This was the first time we were able to test our technology on a full-scale power grid composed of both underground cables and overhead lines. Our results are even better than we had hoped for," says Farhad Rachidi, the EPFL scientist co-leading the project with his colleague Mario Paolone.

Two factors underlie their method: the scientific phenomenon of time reversal, and the sophisticated equations used to model electromagnetic waves. The process takes place in several steps. First,...
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