The Catholic University of America

Oct. 2, 2009

Economics Professor Awarded $400,000 to Study Impact of Space Weather on Power Grid

Kevin Forbes, associate professor of economics, has received a grant of more than $400,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Atmospheric Sciences, to continue his study of the effect of space weather on the flow of electricity, power grid operations and electricity markets.

Forbes' study will expand on his earlier NSF-funded research that examined 12 geographically disparate power grids. His research showed that solar-induced geomagnetic storms have consequences for power grid operations and real-time electricity prices.

The project is expected to lead to a better understanding of the effects of both space weather and terrestrial weather on power grid operations, enabling power operators and policymakers to more efficiently manage electricity grids, which may have significant economic benefits.

The three-year project will study the extent to which geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) from the sun contribute to loop flows. Loop flows are unscheduled or inadvertent flows of electricity from power grids that represent the difference between the scheduled (desired) transmission flow and the actual flow.

These unscheduled electricity flows are ubiquitous and frequently large on most transmission systems. The flows are sometimes so large that a scheduled importer of electricity may actually unwittingly export electricity instead. The flows represent a challenge to the reliability of the power grid since the stability of the system requires the demand and supply of electricity be equal at all times. At the present time, system operators have difficulty estimating these flows.

Forbes' collaborator in the project is astrophysicist Chris St. Cyr of the Heliophysics Science Division, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and adjunct research professor with CUA's Institute for Astrophysics and Computational Sciences, who introduced Forbes to the field of space weather more than five years ago. Forbes' expertise in the field has also been enhanced through his service to a National Academy of Sciences panel that reported earlier this year on the societal and economic impacts of severe space weather events.

The long-range goal of this study is to forecast loop flows based on forecasts of space weather, terrestrial weather and the scheduled level of grid activity.

MEDIA: For more information, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy at 202-319-5600.