Left in the dark

Petr Korba and Mats Larsson

Working with the research branch of the ABB group, a group of Swiss scientists developed a detection system to predict and correct power oscillations on electric grids. Their invention significantly reduces the risk of  costly and dangerous power outages.

Inventors: Petr Korba, Mats Larsson, Switzerland

Invention: Power oscillation detection system

Sector: Power Monitoring

Company: ABB Research Ltd.

Background information


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Power outages have been a problem since the beginning of widespread use of electricity. As power grids have recently become more interconnected, outages have become more costly and dangerous.

In 2003, the United States and Canada suffered a blackout that left 50 million people without power. The power outage resulted in 11 deaths and cost a reported $6 billion. In recent years, Italy, Denmark, and other European countries have also experienced major blackouts.

European national power grids were originally set up as autonomous systems, with each system having its own reserves to correct outage-causing power disruptions. In the last few decades, grids in Europe began sharing power reserves. These interconnected power systems all operate at a "single heartbeat" of 50 Hertz UCTE (Union for the Co-ordination of Electricity Transmission) frequency.

Strains on this new interconnected power system have prompted the development of new technology to help detect and fix potential problems before they result in electrical disruptions or power outages. One such solution emerged in 2003 in the form of a detection system for electromechanical oscillations in power grids. The algorithm  was developed by a Swiss team for the research branch of the ABB Group.

Oscillations occur in every power system. Well damped power oscillations naturally resolve themselves, however, badly damped oscillations can result in instability and cause potential blackouts.

The Swiss team's invention is the first warning system for power oscillations, meaning that it can predict and correct oscillations before they begin to cause problems.

The developed device  monitors the supervised power system several times per second using satellites and is based on measurements collected across the entire system, instead of depending on only local ones.  The hardware, software, and mathematical method that the team developed help reduce the possibility for blackouts and improve efficiency.

Petr Korba works as a principal scientist at ABB in the area of Power Systems Dynamics and Control. Mats Larsson also works as a principal scientist responsible for Wide-area Monitoring and Control at the ABB Research Centre.

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