A systems engineering approach to power systems in remote regions

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Virginia Tech

This project has demonstrated why a systems approach is appropriate to the problem of supplying electric power in remote areas and how it can be applied. It can easily be seen why the solution is a system. It requires many components working together for one goal: the delivery of electricity to the consumer. The systems design and operation will impact on the demand for electricity that the customer places on it. A poorly designed or operating system will be more expensive and less reliable and this will tend to reduce people’s use of electricity in favor of other energy sources.

A systems approach is appropriate because a power system will have far-reaching impacts on many areas of society including its economy, its health and social welfare, and its environment. It requires the expertise of many different specialties. In this project principles from four branches of engineering were used: civil, mechanical, electrical, and industrial. Expertise in other areas such as finance, accounting, business administration, forestry, biology, chemistry, environmental engineering, and law would also have to be used in order to bring the system into being. It needs a top-down approach to be an effective system. The system could develop from the bottom up by each community developing its own system and then tying these systems together. This approach would lend itself to duplication of effort and inefficiencies. Finally the life cycle of the system especially operation and maintenance must be considered in order for the system to be effective. This is especially important in remote areas where personnel, equipment, and materials are not as readily available.

The system approach was demonstrated for a fictional but reasonable example. The first two steps of the systems engineering process were applied for the two major subsystems: generation and transmission. The methods, tools and techniques which were used in this example could be followed for a system in any part of the world with any type of generation.

This example considered the use of two renewable resources as energy sources. For power systems in remote areas mini-hydro facilities operating as run of the river units and wind energy, conversion systems are both feasible means of generating a part of a regions needs. Their advantages are they are small, compact, and modular. They do not require a lot of operator attention or maintenance. Environmentally they can be relatively benign. Their biggest drawback is their lack of energy storage capability and unpredictable nature. Backup sources may be required to ensure an acceptable degree of reliability. These renewable resources can be cost-effective methods of generation. Their low production costs can offset the high capital investment costs and deliver the power at a lower price per kilowatt-hour than conventional fossil fuel plants.

In summary power systems that are reliable and economical can be built, operated, and maintained in remote areas using renewable resources. These systems can be used to bring the numerous benefits of electricity to these remote regions.