Ground design

Double trouble when 2 disasters hit power transmission infrastructure

A natural disaster can cut off electrical service to millions of people. A new study suggests that back-to-back disasters could cause catastrophic damage, but the research also identifies new ways to monitor and maintain power grids.

Researchers at Ohio State University have developed a machine learning model to predict how susceptible overhead transmission lines are to damage when natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes come in quick succession.

An essential facet of modern infrastructure, steel transmission towers help carry electricity over long distances by keeping overhead power lines off the ground. After severe damage, failures in these systems can disrupt networks in affected communities, taking weeks to months to repair.

The study, published in the journal Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics, uses simulations to analyze the effect of past damage on the performance of these towers once a second hazard hits. Their findings suggest that previous damage has a significant impact on the fragility and reliability of these networks if they cannot be repaired before the second hazard occurs, said Abdullah Shafiezadeh, co-author of the study and associate professor of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering.

“Our work aims to answer whether it is possible to design and manage systems in a way that not only minimizes their initial damage, but allows them to recover faster,” Shafieezadeh said.

The machine learning model not only revealed that a combination of an earthquake and a hurricane could be particularly devastating to the power grid, but the order of the disasters could make a difference. The researchers found that the probability of a tower collapsing is much higher in the event of an earthquake followed by a hurricane than the probability of failure when the hurricane arrives first and is followed by a hurricane. earth.

This means that while communities would certainly suffer setbacks in the event that a hurricane precedes an earthquake, a situation in which an earthquake precedes a hurricane could devastate an area’s power grid. Such findings explain why Shafieezadeh’s research has big implications for disaster recovery efforts.

“When large-scale power grid systems are spread over large geographic areas, it is not possible to carefully inspect every square inch of them,” Shafieezadeh said. “Predictive models can help engineers or organizations see which towers have the highest probability of failure and act quickly to resolve these issues in the field.”

After training the model for numerous scenarios, the team created “fragility models” that tested the resistance of structures to different natural threat characteristics and intensities. Using these simulations, the researchers concluded that tower failures due to a single hazardous event were significantly different from the pattern of failures caused by multiple hazard events. The study noted that many of these failures occurred in the structure’s leg members, a segment of the tower that helps bolt the structure to the ground and prevents collapse.

Overall, Shafieezadeh said his research shows there is a need to focus on re-evaluating the whole design philosophy of these networks. Yet to accomplish such a task, much greater support from public services and government agencies is needed.

“Our work would be greatly beneficial in creating new infrastructure regulations on the ground,” Shafieezadeh said. “This along with our other research shows that we can significantly improve the performance of the entire system with the same amount of resources that we spend today, simply by optimizing their allocation. »

This work was supported by the Korea Institute for Energy Technology Assessment and Planning (KETEP) and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy of the Republic of Korea (MOTIE).

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