Tech hosts Annual Protective Relaying Conference

Professor A.P. “Sakis” Meliopolous, PhD, hosted the 2024 Georgia Tech Protective Relaying Conference, from April 24 through 27. The three-day event provided a platform for the leading engineers, technicians, consultants and other stakeholders in the power grid protection industry field to discuss the latest advancements in the field. 

In the power grid, protective relays act as smart circuit breakers, constantly monitoring for dangerous conditions and tripping specific sections to isolate faults. This crucial function within the power grid protection industry ensures the safe and reliable operation of large-scale electric networks.

The conference delved into specific areas of current research and development within protective relaying. During its morning sessions, leading scientists and engineers in this protective relaying field presented the results of their research from the past year regarding a specific problem area followed by a short Q&A session. 

“The planning committee and I review all the research papers that are submitted and decide what to feature in the conference. Last year, we had about 100 paper submissions, but the program only accepted 40 of them. After they present, all the authors of the paper receive a certificate of completion,” said Meliopolous. 

Multiple research papers focused on accommodating the growth of sustainable development in the industry, specifically in the form of distributed generation systems. Distributed generation refers to the use of small-scale power generation sources, often renewable, located closer to points of consumption. As communities develop more sustainable forms of energy generation and consumption, many have adopted this as a solution, producing small-scale solar farms or hydroelectric dams that power their community. These innovations feed power to the grid with different electrical aspects and properties, raising unprecedented challenges for the grid’s engineers.

The Institute’s Power Systems Control and Automation Laboratory (PSCAL), spearheaded by Meliopolous, is one of the nation’s leaders in automated power systems control research, andwhich is finding solutions to this challenge. One of their more significant projects, “Autonomous, Adaptive and Secure Distribution Protection,” aims to better protect power grids that draw energy from distributed generation systems. 

Meliopolous’s master’s students were able to attend the program and facilitate it, seeing firsthand how their research is one of the most prescient topics in the industry. 

“Most of the work we do [at PSCAL] is in protective power systems, and this conference is a hub for that,” said Syed Afroz, second-year M.S. ECE. “We meet a lot of industry professionals, and we get insight into how the industry operates. We get to see how our theoretical knowledge is applied practically. … We get to network with a lot of prominent figures in the industry and share our knowledge and experiences with common industry issues and solution applications.” 

Grid cybersecurity is aAnother significant area where the industry is evolving. is grid cybersecurity. According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), U.S. power grids are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks, with the number of susceptible access points in electrical networks increasing by about 60 per day. 

In addition to facilitating the convention, Meliopolous oversees various premier research, academic and professional programs at the Institute related to electrical systems. Last year, he won the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power & Energy Society Outstanding Power Engineering Educator Award for his contributions to power system education in protection, control and operation. 

“At Georgia Tech, we have a very strong program in Protection and Controls and Cybersecurity. Everything we do in [this industry] is based on computers. All the relays are embedded in computer systems, so you can realize that when somebody tries to attack the power system, that is where he starts. In fact, we have a center [at the Institute] that monitors cyber attacks on the power system. We’re seeing millions [of attacks] per month. So people are trying continuously. Professional organizations like IEEE are constantly developing new security standards for utility companies. At the same time, the government is developing regulations to meet these standards,” Meliopolous said.

Meliopolous is an administrator, developer and professor for two significant educational programs related to power grid protection and control under the Institute’s Professional Education Department (GTPE), which educates in-industry professionals on the latest standards, strategies and technologies that are prevalent in their respective fields. According to their FY22 Impact report, GTPE enrolled over 100,000 professionals in their programs in 2022. 

“I am the academic administrator of the Power System Certificate program. The program is run in parallel by [GTPE] and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and it is designed for practicing engineers. These courses usually consist of three or four days of intensive classes on the subject. We have a series of courses that are spread throughout the year, … and once they complete these, they receive a certificate of completion for it.”

Along with other professors, Meliopolous is constantly developing the courses to educate professional engineers on developing technologies and their applications in the power grid protection industry. 

“For example, we have one course where we teach what happens in a control center, which is typically what operates and monitors a power system. Since the systems there are updated frequently, engineers come to learn the new industry standards that utilities implement. We also have courses on protection and control, power quality, grounding and power electronics. These courses cover what ECE students learn here, but they are designed to assume that these engineers already know the basics,” Meliopolous said. 

He also leads multiple master’s programs in the field, providing opportunities for engineers to build their expertise in certain subject areas within electrical systems that apply to modern industry standards.

“Additionally, we have an online program where students can earn a M.S. in Cybersecurity for Electric Energy Systems. This is also run by the Professional Education Department, but unlike the certificate program, it operates on a semester system. The program has 10 courses, and I am teaching two of them, which I developed,” said Meliopolous. 

The 2024 Georgia Tech Protective Relaying Conference addressed the critical role protective relays play in ensuring a safe and reliable grid, and it continues to solidify the Institute’s leading position in power systems research and education.