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Electric Fish Short-Circuit Blackouts

The sensors can be mounted on power poles tens of kilometres apart and used to locate a fault point and thus detect the incipient signs of a blackout and help to prevent it.

The sensors can be mounted on power poles tens of kilometres apart and used to locate a fault point and thus detect the incipient signs of a blackout and help to prevent it.

By Alexe Bojovschi & Khoi Loon Wong

Electric fish have inspired a new technology that can wirelessly detect where faults in the energy grid are likely to occur before they lead to blackouts.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Although many factors have contributed to the recent increase in the number of power outages, two predominate – ageing infrastructure and increasing environmental pollutants. Both will remain a problem without the development of an efficient distributed technology that can detect incipient signs of power failure.

The majority of the power networks were built at least 50 years ago, and they are ageing and deteriorating just at the very time when they are being overloaded with new appliances. This increases the probability of the development of sparks. All it takes is a salt deposit or a build-up of lichen to provide a conductive path across an insulator and increase the likelihood of electrical discharges. Small electric sparks can evolve over time into larger electrical discharges. This dynamic process is now widespread in power networks and leads to outages.

In 2012, blackouts left more than 620 million people in India without power for a couple of days and in the USA cost the economy more than US$120 billion. Electric sparking has been blamed for major bushfires in Australia.

The psychological significance of blackouts is immense. Just imagine being alone in a lift or even at home when the lights go out. You might feel irritated, angry, terrified or lost, but unless you have your own generator you will also be ... powerless. More serious, of course,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.