System of systems

Course subject(s) Module 2: Fuzzy borders: expansion and interconnection of infrastructure systems

Large scale infrastructures emerge through interconnection across regions and national borders. Continental electricity infrastructure is a system composed of national systems, which are composed of regional systems, which are composed of local systems. Such a constellation of systems is known as a system-of-systems. The aggregated system can only function as a system thanks to the adoption of interconnection and interoperability standards.

In this unit we have two web lectures:

The first one will focus on standardization. Standardization is key that had to be overcome to bring continental and global infrastructure systems into being. It is difficult now to imagine a world without standardized time zones, as a prerequisite for worldwide transportation and telecommunication networks enabling global trade. Standardization issues are usually tackled in lengthy negotiations between technical experts – they are dealt with as technical issues – which obscures the huge political and commercial interests involved. Standardization issues still hamper the smooth operation of many international infrastructure systems. And they are a nuisance for end-users .

The Itaipu Dam at the border between Brazil & Paraguay is the largest operating hydroelectric facility in terms of annual energy generation (not in terms of capacity anymore).. It is crucial for the supply of energy in both countries. One thing that is interesting about this dam is the power distribution. Ten of the generator units generate power at 60Hz for Brazil, and 10 generate power at 50Hz for Paraguay. Paraguay can only use a fraction of its share of the output, so the rest is sent by two special 600kV HVDC transmission lines to São Paulo, Brazil, where it is converted to 60Hz for the Brazilian grid.

The second one will focus on tightly coupled interconnected systems. A disturbance happening in some part of the system may have far reaching consequences. If the disturbance cannot be contained and remediated at the local level, it will cascade through the network and affect the service level in a wide region. Think out major power cuts. The system-of-systems character of infrastructure systems, both within and across infrastructure sectors, implies that strategies to avoid or recover from a breakdown require a multitude of actors to interact, including infrastructure owners and operators, producers of infrastructure resources, service providers and government. Some of these actors will probably be based in the private sector, others in the public sector, implying that they are subject to different laws and regulation. Especially since all infrastructure providers are subject to economic efficiency incentives, the interdependencies across infrastructure sectors are unlikely to be properly managed without government intervention (we will come back to this later!).

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