Protocol Labs Research
2020-12-09 / Conference paper
Improving system resilience through formal verification of transactive energy controls
IEEE PES Transactive Energy Systems Conference (TESC) / 2020.12.09
Michael Hammersley , Francis M. O’Sullivan, Alan Ransil


Formal verification tools such as TLA+ allow errors to be uncovered through exhaustive exploration of reachable states, and are the gold standard for ensuring resilience in software systems. In particular, these methods can be used to identify error states emerging from precise interactions between multiple subsystems that would occur only after long periods of testing, operation, or stacked error conditions. This approach has been applied to eliminate errors in commercial software systems, networking, industrial controls, and increasingly in energy applications. We have recently demonstrated the use of standard distribution feeders as a basis for TLA+ models in order to provide a test setup for investigating distributed energy control algorithms. Here we examine a distribution feeder under conditions in which a transmission outage curtails slack bus power flows. While conventional grid architectures under these conditions would de-energize the feeder and require nodes with distributed energy resources (DERs) to operate in islanded mode, we model control algorithms for a transactive energy system in which DERs are able to sell power to neighboring nodes. A modular architecture is used to add new node and feeder capabilities, such as the ability to buy and sell energy in hyperlocal distribution markets, as module upgrades while containing modifications to the control system used to operate the feeder. This approach allows the resiliency benefits of transactive energy to be gained while minimizing implementation costs through the reduction of complexity. We model a laminar coordination framework and use TLA+ to formally verify its operation. Using this formal specification, we investigate the latency of coordination signals over a range of system states and identify conditions for stable operation. We show that while allowing energy transactions between peers on a feeder improves system resilience by permitting continued operation despite the failure of transmission infrastructure, care must be taken to address other failure modes that arise from this decentralized architecture which can be addressed through model checking. This work establishes formal verification as an invaluable tool for realization of the resiliency benefits of transactive energy by uncovering potential failure modes and providing engineers a chance to mitigate them before systems are commissioned.