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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp attends the Class of 1972 50-year reunion in Kyle Field on April 20, 2022.
A&M System’s Title IX director suspended after supporting Biden's Title IX changes
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Enjoying the Destination
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Stopping the Spread of Wildfires

A+firefighter+surveying+a+wildfire+in+southern+Florida.
Photo by Photo by Josh O’Connor Courtesy of United States Fish and Wildlife Service

A firefighter surveying a wildfire in southern Florida.

To slow the spread of forest fires in California, the Texas A&M Wildfire Prevention System has produced the Distribution Fault Anticipation tool, or DFA. It is now being used by California investor-owned utility Pacific Gas & Electric Company, or PG&E, to work against raging forest fires that have devastated the area. 
The DFA is a unique tool programmed to detect circuit malfunctions and alert operators of the issues before causing power outages or sparking fires. PG&E has expanded its use of this specific tool in order to detect fires before they start. 
On Sept. 20, the news of the increasing usage of the DFA as a device which could tremendously help utility companies was announced by A&M System Chancellor John Sharp
According to electrical and computer engineering professor B. Don Russel, his team’s contributions to the device have been in progress since 1976. The DFA has recently been discovered to not only warn officers of failures within the system, but to also warn when those failures could spark flames. 
“As it turned out, the things that fail in a power system that make it unreliable or cause an outage for customers are exactly the same things that often ignite wildfires,” Russel said. “The work we had been doing for quite a while to make the power system more reliable was also something that would help make the power system more rigorous and stop it from causing some wildfires.” 
A&M Experiment Station research associate professor Jeffery Wischkaemper said there are things which do not fail immediately, but fail over time and are recurring problems. Monitoring aspects of the system with the DFA device can help detect and locate failures before disaster occurs.
“At a technical level, these are devices that are installed in distribution substations. They monitor the currents and voltages that are on those circuits and look for signatures that are indicative, equipment failures and other problems that can be addressed before they cause some sort of catastrophic failure,” Wischkaemper said. 
Wischkaemper said the pre-prototype phase for the DFA device started in the mid-1990s. Close to the 2000s, Russel’s team began its research project with Electric Power Research Institute, or EPRI, which funded a majority of the project. Over time the recognition of malfunctions became increasingly accurate according to it’s documentation. The DFA is one of the many pieces of technology which documents and continuously monitors the failed construction of the line, slowing this issue of failures and their effects within the system.
“We expanded [the DFA’s detection], in the late [19]90s, to be more generic,” research professor of electrical and computer engineering Carl L. Benner said. “The same kind of approach at looking at electrical signatures, but looking for all sorts of failure mechanisms, not just broken conductors.” 
The DFA is being used in utilities all over the world, such as Southern California Edison in California, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Russel discussed the increasing catastrophic wildfires, and how the usage of this device is imperative in the mission to save people’s lives. 
“From the very beginning of my first career at Texas A&M, I wanted to find a way to make the power system more reliable and I concentrated on finding things that were wrong in ways that we couldn’t do with existing equipment and devices,” Russel said. “It feels very good to know that when you’re working on a technical problem, if you can solve that problem it’s going to benefit the public, it’s going to save lives, it’s going to save property, it’s going to make the power system more reliable for everybody.”
Russel said, in the future, he hopes the DFA will be used on more utilities and different kinds of power systems. They plan to expand their horizons to include industrial complexes, plants and facilities where there’s a large use of electric power to improve systems and save companies millions of dollars. A&M has been heavily involved in this production, and the notice of the DFA is a distinguished accomplishment. 
“I think it’s really important that Texas A&M Engineering has supported this work for over 40 years because at A&M we are interested in doing things that are of public service. We are interested in doing things that have an application that helps the citizens of Texas and the country,” Russel said. “I’m proud to say that A&M emphasizes applied engineering work just as much as they support theoretical work, and I think that not all universities are that way and that is an important feature.”

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