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Home / Technical Articles / Power System Stability

Basic Concepts

Power system stability is the ability of the system, for a given initial operating condition, to regain a normal state of equilibrium after being subjected to a disturbance.

Stability is a condition of equilibrium between opposing forces; instability results when a disturbance leads to a sustained imbalance between the opposing forces.

The power system is a highly nonlinear system that operates in a constantly changing environment; loads, generator outputs, topology, and key operating parameters change continually.

When subjected to a transient disturbance, the stability of the system depends on the nature of the disturbance as well as the initial operating condition. The disturbance may be small or large. Small disturbances in the form of load changes occur continually, and the system adjusts to the changing conditions. The system must be able to operate satisfactorily under these conditions and successfully meet the load demand. It must also be able to survive numerous disturbances of a severe nature, such as a short-circuit on a transmission line or loss of a large generator.

Following a transient disturbance, if the power system is stable, it will reach a new equilibrium state with practically the entire system intact; the actions of automatic controls and possibly human operators will eventually restore the system to normal state. On the other hand, if the system is unstable, it will result in a run-away or run-down situation; for example, a progressive increase in angular separation of generator rotors, or a progressive decrease in bus voltages.

An unstable system condition could lead to cascading outages and a shut-down of a major portion of the power system.

The response of the power system to a disturbance may involve much of the equipment. For instance, a fault on a critical element followed by its isolation by protective relays will cause variations in power flows, network bus voltages, and machine rotor speeds; the voltage variations will actuate both generator and transmission network voltage regulators; the generator speed variations will actuate prime mover governors; and the voltage and frequency variations will affect the system loads to varying degrees depending on their individual characteristics.

Further, devices used to protect individual equipment may respond to variations in system variables and thereby affect the power system performance. A typical modern power system is thus a very high-order multivariable process whose dynamic performance is influenced by a wide array of devices with different response rates and characteristics. Hence, instability in a power system may occur in many different ways depending on the system topology, operating mode, and the form of the disturbance.

Traditionally, the stability problem has been one of maintaining synchronous operation. Since power systems rely on synchronous machines for generation of electrical power, a necessary condition for satisfactory system operation is that all synchronous machines remain in synchronism or, colloquially, “in step.”

This aspect of stability is influenced by the dynamics of generator rotor angles and power-angle relationships. Instability may also be encountered without the loss of synchronism. For example, a system consisting of a generator feeding an induction motor can become unstable due to collapse of load voltage. In this instance, it is the stability and control of voltage that is the issue, rather than the maintenance of synchronism. This type of instability can also occur in the case of loads covering an extensive area in a
large system.

In the event of a significant load/generation mismatch, generator and prime mover controls become important, as well as system controls and special protections. If not properly coordinated, it is possible for the system frequency to become unstable, and generating units and/or loads may ultimately be tripped possibly leading to a system blackout. This is another case where units may remain in synchronism (until tripped by such protections as under-frequency), but the system becomes unstable.

Because of the high dimensionality and complexity of stability problems, it is essential to make simplifying assumptions and to analyze specific types of problems using the right degree of detail of system representation. The following subsection describes the classification of power system stability into different categories.

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Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry facilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming.


  1. Shyam Sundar BR
    Jun 12, 2015

    Could i get a good technical article on understanding of Inertia constant, GD square, axial and radial loads, short circuit ratio and time constant etc., of a synchronous generator (preferably hydro generators)

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