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What makes electricity different? Dumb grids, the ultimate just-in-time problem, and polar bears

Hobbs, B; Ralph, D (Johns Hopkins/Cambridge)
Monday 24 May 2010, 14:00-15:15

Seminar Room 1, Newton Institute


We argue that electricity is a fascinating source of problems for mathematicians because of the sector's economic and environmental importance, and because of its unique temporal and spatial structure.

The economy's most capital intensive sector must supply energy at the precise moment it is demanded -- there are no significant buffer stocks or storage, at least in most systems. Prices can, as a result, vary a hundred-fold in a day.

There are also no valves in this network; power flows follow all parallel paths, so one party's generation or consumption decisions affect everyone else, from the Isle of Wight to the Western Isles.

We review the classic optimization problems facing system planners and operators: static optimal dispatch on a constrained network, dynamic scheduling of generation unit operations, and long run investment capacity expansion. Although liberalisation has not changed the physics, the economics and decision responsibilities are drastically differen t now compared to the 1980s. Financial and risk considerations have never been more important, at the same time that society is demanded a rapid change to sustainable, intermittent, low emission generation technologies.


[pdf ]


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