Western University researchers to develop self-healing smart grid

Researchers: Prof. Anwar Haque, Prof. Hanan Lutifyya, Jacob Hunte, and Post-doc Yaser Al Mtawa
Institution: Western University
Industry Partner: Tillsonburg Hydro Inc.
Supported By: FedDev OntarioIBM Canada LtdSOSCIPOntario Centres of Excellence,
Focus Areas: Energy, Smart Grid

A team of researchers at Western University are using SOSCIP’s advanced computing platforms to build a smarter resilient power grid.

The two-part “smart” project came about after a discussion with now industry partner Tillsonburg Hydro Inc. Tillsonburg Hydro provides power to more than 15,000 residents. Prof. Anwar Haque, an assistant professor with the department of computer science at Western was particularly interested with the challenges that occur in the last mile. When a power outage occurs in the power line between the user and the last transmission point, also known as the last mile, utility companies have limited visibility and inefficient real time feedback from the systems.

“We discovered that if there is a power outage, the utility companies have, however improving, limited knowledge of outages and locating those failures quickly. Power restoration can be lengthy, and at times can take a number of days – all of which can pose safety risks for their customers.

“We wanted to change that,” he explained.

The team includes Prof. Hanan Lutifyya, also from the department of computer science, as well as PhD student Jacob Hunte and Yaser Al Mtawa, a post-doctoral fellow that was hired through the SOSCIP TalentEdge program.

The research team, L-R: Yaser Al Mtawa, Prof. Anwar Haque, Prof. Hanan Lutifyya, Jacob Hunte

The first part of the project involves improving the efficiency of the electrical grid by developing a fault localization technique in the last mile. To do this, a number of sensors are optimally, minimally and efficiently employed throughout the grid. When an outage occurs, real-time data is transmitted and recorded during the fault event and trigger switching events to isolate the fault and restore as many customers as possible. The data is also shared with the utility company, providing them with the tools to reliably identify the location and source of the outage.

The team are taking the research even further by developing a novel, smarter, and predictive self-healing transmission grid. In the event of an outage, the technology will reroute the power to an alternate source and bypass the failed components of the grid. Once the fault is fixed, the power is automatically switched over.

“The proposed novel self-healing hydro networks design will leverage IoT, machine learning, and smart  technologies to provide a smarter solution to the electric utility industry to improve their energy and operational efficiency. And increase customers’ satisfaction,” explained Prof. Haque, who says the team is working closely with utility industry and plans to commercialize  this technology.

While the project has proven to be challenging, it opens new opportunities for emerging talent to develop a taste for solving real-life industrial problems.

“Through SOSCIP’s Cloud Platform we can develop and evaluate fault management and rerouting algorithms using simulated data before deploying the solutions in a real environment.  The SOSCIP TalentEdge program provides tremendous opportunities for HQP to interact with industry partners on addressing relevant problems that impact society,” said Prof. Lutfiyya.

“It’s vital that academic researchers team up and collaborate with industry and devise novel solutions that are scalable and feasible,” said SOSCIP post-doctoral fellow, Al Mtawa.

“So far, we have had great success with incorporating internet of things and optimization theory. This project will enhance my experience in a new area, specifically in smart grid.”

“There are definite time constraints in collaborating with industry,” added PhD student Jacob Hunte. “My focus is to shorten the timeframe it takes to isolate where a fault has occurred, so companies can go directly to that point and restore power. It’s a cross between evolutionary computing and AI. We’re dealing with very significant time constraints.

“This research matters because it is going to change the energy industry,” explained Prof. Haque. “This smart grid research has the potential to disrupt an entire industry.”

“At Tillsonburg Hydro, we are excited to be at the forefront of introducing Smart Grid technologies to our industry. With the partnership of Prof. Haque and his research team at the University of Western Ontario, we see a cost efficient and clear benefit to serving our customers,” said Michael Desroches, P.Eng., CEO of Tillsonburg Hydro Inc.