Wireless Microsensor in Electric Power Delivery Systems
Richard White, Tom Devine, MSME, James Evans, MSME, Paul Wright, ME, Michael Seidel, EECS Senior and Giovanni Gonzalez, ME Grad Student
A little-known problem threatens systems that deliver electric power to residential and commercial customers: the buried distribution cables that operate at 12,000 volts and higher perform well for a few decades and then suddenly fail with a dramatic one-nanosecond arc (see typical result below).
PG&E alone has 25,000 miles of 3-phase distribution circuits (75,000 miles of aging underground cables), and no really economical way of telling which ones are bad. The California Energy Commission has just funded a 3-year interdisciplinary (EECS, ME, MSME) research program at UCB to understand the failure mechanisms and find feasible ways (feasible technically, economically, and organizationally) of checking the health of cables to prioritize replacement.
The microsensors that we're researching, which report their data wirelessly, could help by measuring the electrical and mechanical characteristics of cables while in service (without power disruption). If you're an EECS graduate researcher with an interest in MEMS, microsensors, and wireless sensor networks, please contact Dick White (rwhite@eecs), EECS professor and founding co-director of the Berkeley Sensor & Actuator Center.
Figure 1: Damaged distribution cable