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UNM researcher part of global project to establish Center on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid

September 26, 2023 - by Kim Delker

This month, the National Science Foundation — along with partner funding agencies from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom — announced awards totaling $76.4 million for the inaugural Global Centers Competition, and a University of New Mexico researcher is a leader in one of the centers.

The University of Utah and University of Calgary will co-lead the U.S.-Canada Center on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid. The center is an interdisciplinary and international partnership that brings together experts in power engineering, climate, forestry, data, policy and social sciences, as well as industry, entrepreneurs and others in academia, industry, government and communities.

The overall mission is to enhance power grid resilience to the rising frequency, intensity and duration of extreme weather events, such as wildfires and heatwaves.

Ali Bidram, an assistant professor in the UNM Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering — will be part of the project. As the principal investigator for UNM and the university’s only faculty on the project, Bidram will be developing algorithms and techniques to address wildfire-related resilience issues by designing optimization algorithms that decrease the risk of power system equipment in igniting wildfires.

“Given the extreme events like wildfire and heatwave that are occurring in the western interconnection, this project will play a critical role in creating novel approaches to address the impacts of these events on the electric power grids,” Bidram said.

In addition to UNM, the academic members of the center are the University of Utah, University of California San Diego’s WIFIRE lab and Desert Research Institute, as well as University of Calgary, University of British Columbia, University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus, University of Alberta, University of Saskatchewan, University of Regina and Thompson Rivers University in Canada.

The center will also develop customized models for risk quantification and forecasting of regional extreme climate disturbances and will build a cyberinfrastructure for collecting and sharing both climate and grid data among the Western Interconnection’s stakeholders.

The Western Interconnected Grid, commonly known as “the Western Interconnection,” is one of the two major interconnected power grids in North America, which stretches from the northern edge of British Columbia, Canada to the border of Baja, Mexico, and from the California coast to the Rockies, and serves roughly 80 million people over 1.8 million square miles across two Canadian provinces and fourteen western states in the United States. The Western Interconnection is the backbone of one of the largest regional economic engines in the world.

The new center will work closely with the various communities that are served by the western interconnection, which include some of the most densely populated cities in the world, as well as remote and rural areas with minimal power infrastructure.

The project leaders say that establishing a comprehensive understanding of the unique needs of these communities is necessary to develop effective climate-resilience strategies.