Researchers mash Google Earth with electrical data to predict national grid problems

What do you get when you combine images from Google Earth and the brainpower from researchers at Oak Ridge National Labs? Well in this case you get a tool that enables real-time status of the national electric grid that federal state and local agencies can use to coordinate and respond to major problems such as wide-area power outages, natural disasters and other catastrophic events.

The Visualizing Energy Resources Dynamically on Earth (VERDE) system, announced this week, mashes together images and stats of everything from real-time status of the electric grid and weather information to power grid behavior modeling and simulation.

VERDE ultimately enhances situational awareness and speeds recovery times from power outages, ORNL scientists said. The tool also can predict the transmission lines particularly at risk of storm damage as well as the population in specific areas likely to lose power as a result of destructive winds from storms, ORNL said.

"With this tool we are able to monitor individual transmission lines and place the system as a whole in the context of potential impact on population, transportation and critical infrastructures," said Mallikarjun Shankar of ORNL's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division in a release.

Protecting the power grid is also one of the goal behind a new project at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Researchers there were recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to perform an experiment called the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE) that will employ the Iridium constellation of 66 communications satellites and software to measure the electric currents that link Earth's atmosphere and space. By measuring this component of the space weather system, AMPERE will allow 24/7 tracking of Earth's response to supersonic blasts of plasma ejected from the sun, which can damage satellites high-altitude aircraft and electric power grids.

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