Hysteresis, phase transitions, and dangerous transients in electrical power distribution systems

Charlie Duclut, Scott Backhaus, Michael Chertkov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The majority of dynamical studies in power systems focus on the high-voltage transmission grids where models consider large generators interacting with crude aggregations of individual small loads. However, new phenomena have been observed indicating that the spatial distribution of collective, nonlinear contribution of these small loads in the low-voltage distribution grid is crucial to the outcome of these dynamical transients. To elucidate the phenomenon, we study the dynamics of voltage and power flows in a spatially extended distribution feeder (circuit) connecting many asynchronous induction motors and discover that this relatively simple 1+1 (space+time) dimensional system exhibits a plethora of nontrivial spatiotemporal effects, some of which may be dangerous for power system stability. Long-range motor-motor interactions mediated by circuit voltage and electrical power flows result in coexistence and segregation of spatially extended phases defined by individual motor states, a "normal" state where the motors' mechanical (rotation) frequency is slightly smaller than the nominal frequency of the basic ac flows and a "stalled" state where the mechanical frequency is small. Transitions between the two states can be initiated by a perturbation of the voltage or base frequency at the head of the distribution feeder. Such behavior is typical of first-order phase transitions in physics, and this 1+1 dimensional model shows many other properties of a first-order phase transition with the spatial distribution of the motors' mechanical frequency playing the role of the order parameter. In particular, we observe (a) propagation of the phase-transition front with the constant speed (in very long feeders) and (b) hysteresis in transitions between the normal and stalled (or partially stalled) phases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number062802
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 4 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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