KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON IN A DISASTER

Recovery depends on a resilient electric grid


July 23, 2019

BY RACHEL ROBERTSON
When the next Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake hits, recovery will depend on a functioning electric grid. By minimizing the grid’s vulnerability now, utility companies could help restore vital services to facilities such as hospitals, airports and water treatment plants.

With support from Portland General Electric, Vishvas Chalishazar, a doctoral student in Oregon State University’s College of Engineering, modeled the impacts of a quake on the electric grid to prioritize upgrades and repairs. Graduating this spring with a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, he has accepted a position with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the U.S. Department of Energy.

“What’s really cool about the research is that it is so broad in scope and is applied to a very large and real system,” says Ted Brekken, Chalishazar’s adviser and a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Chalishazar collaborated with several groups to accomplish the task. GeoEngineers Inc. provided information on liquefaction and ground shaking, and earthquake engineering firm SEFT Consulting Group supplied predictions of the probability of substation equipment failure.

Chalishazar says, “My model uses data from the consultants, implements it, then simulates a million earthquakes. The output is an evaluation of which assets are the most critical and the most at risk.”

Brekken notes the outstanding work Chalishazar has done working with several bosses and consultants as an employee while still a student.
Without the collaboration of PGE, Chalishazar would have been able to model only imaginary systems. Using data from an actual electric grid makes it a realistic scientific pursuit. And the research has value for PGE and the customers they serve.

“It’s on the cutting edge,” says Brekken, who has research papers in progress with Chalishazar to spread the word about the methodology so others can apply the technology to electric grids that are at risk from earthquakes.

The project has been a valuable opportunity for a graduate student to work closely with an industry partner and help upgrade its equipment.

“I have always been more interested in doing hands-on research that has an impact on the community that I’m living in because it’s very motivating to have that responsibility,” he says.

Research by Oregon State University doctoral graduate Vishvas Chalishazar, left, aims to make the power grid more resilient. With him is Ted Brekken, OSU professor of electrical and computer engineering.
(Photo: Gale Sumida.)

CATEGORIES: Student Research