Vulnerability of Electric Power Systems to Volcanic Ashfall Hazards
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Volcanic eruptions are powerful natural events which impact strongly on society. As human populations grow and expand into volcanically active areas, their exposure and vulnerability to volcanic hazards is also increasing. Of all volcanic hazards, ashfall is the most likely to impact lifelines because of the large areas affected. The widespread dispersal of ash can cause large-scale disruption of vital infrastructure services, aviation, and primary production. Electric power supply is arguably the most crucial of modern infrastructure systems, especially considering the dependence of other sectors on electricity to maintain functionality.
During and immediately after ashfalls, electric power systems are vulnerable to a number of impacts, but disruption from volcanic ash-induced insulator flashover (unintended, disruptive electrical discharge) is most common. This thesis investigates the vulnerability of electric power systems to volcanic ashfall by examining impacts to the different sectors of the modern power system and exploring appropriate mitigation strategies. Analogue laboratory trials using a pseudo (synthetic) ash are undertaken to verify the environmental, volcanological and electrical parameters that most affect electrical conductivity and therefore the flashover mechanism in these experiments. While dry ash is highly resistant to the flow of electric current, increasing moisture content, soluble salt load, and compaction (bulk density) will reduce this resistance and, in turn, increase the potential for flashover.
Volcanic ash is an acute form of airborne pollution for areas downwind of active volcanoes. Results from laboratory experiments in this thesis suggest that insulator pollution (volcanic ash) performance (dielectric strength) is primarily dictated by (1) the conductivity of the ash, and (2) insulator material, profile (shape) and dimensioning. Composite polymer insulators tested herein effectively minimise sinusoidal leakage current and partial discharge activity and also exhibit higher pollution performance when compared to ceramic equivalents. Irrespective of insulator material, however, the likelihood of flashover increases significantly once the bottom surface of suspension insulator watersheds become contaminated in wet ash.
The thesis investigates the vulnerability (hazard intensity/damage ratio) of electric power systems to volcanic ashfall hazards. Identification, analysis, and reduction of the risk of ashfall impacts to power networks is explored as a part of holistic volcanic risk assessment. The findings of the thesis contribute to the readiness, response and recovery protocols for large electric power systems in volcanic disasters; which directly affects the functional operation and economics of industrial and commercial society.