We model power grids transporting electricity generated by intermittent renewable sources as complex networks, where line failures can emerge indirectly by noisy power input at the nodes. By combining concepts from statistical physics and the physics of power flows and taking weather correlations into account, we rank line failures according to their likelihood and establish the most likely way such failures occur and propagate. Our insights are mathematically rigorous in a small-noise limit and are validated with data from the German transmission grid.
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© 2018 American Physical Society.