Power Grid Complexity,

, and
, New York, and
Tsinghua U. Press
, 2011. $239.00 (471 pp.). ISBN 978-3-642-16210-7

One of the most pressing challenges for power grid engineers involves integrating renewable energy sources into the globally interconnected network of power sources and sinks, which is now powered mostly with nonrenewables. Addressing the challenge promises economic dividends too, because the more adaptive energy web will allow power providers to better manage the fluctuations in energy demand and supply that will arise from climate variability or critical events of any origin. Economist and writer Jeremy Rifkin has coined the term “third industrial revolution” to describe this ongoing global transformation of the way energy is produced, distributed, used, bought, and sold.

At the heart of attempts to develop the “emerging energy web” is the field of networked energy systems, which represents a convergence of complexity science, risk management, information and communication technologies, and electrical grid engineering. Power Grid Complexity by Shengwei Mei, Xuemin Zhang, and Ming Cao is a timely and largely successful attempt to organize the various components of that multidisciplinary field. This book will provide researchers and professionals in the field with a comprehensive and valuable reference covering the main concepts and tools. Although the listed price is steep compared with that of a typical physics text, researchers will certainly appreciate the effort to gather those key topics together for the first time. Moreover, the book might also be useful for professionals working in power companies. But because the field is evolving rapidly, it might soon become obsolete if the authors do not prepare an updated edition.

Power Grid Complexity is organized into 14 chapters. Chapter 1 offers a well-balanced introduction. Chapter 2 provides an overview of the basic concepts and methods of statistical physics—in particular, the chapter covers complexity-science methods and their utility in investigating and managing power grids. The remaining chapters are dedicated to technical aspects of the power grid complexity and to grid engineering and management. Some critical topics covered include self-organization phenomena, power grid growth and evolution, blackout modeling, vulnerability assessments, and emergency management.

Power grid complexity is an active area of research. But it is cross-disciplinary and still far from reaching its maturity. The contributing parent disciplines—the most important being complexity science and engineering—have progressed independently over the past several decades, but the book lacks some of the deep insights gathered from those parent disciplines. That lack is especially evident in chapter 2. And in several other chapters, the thread connecting complexity-science concepts and power grid engineering does not always shine through.

The field is also rapidly developing, and Power Grid Complexity understandably fails to cover some recent advances or to provide perspective on the field’s social, economic, and geopolitical dimensions. That is the unavoidable fee readers should be prepared to pay for a book inspired by a global challenge that impacts issues as diverse as growing energy demand, climate change, socioeconomics, and technological development.