Comparing the topological and electrical structure of the North American electric power infrastructure

Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, Paul D.H. Hines, Clayton Barrows, Seth Blumsack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


The topological (graph) structure of complex networks often provides valuable information about the performance and vulnerability of the network. However, there are multiple ways to represent a given network as a graph. Electric power transmission and distribution networks have a topological structure that is straightforward to represent and analyze as a graph. However, simple graph models neglect the comprehensive connections between components that result from Ohm's and Kirchhoff's laws. This paper describes the structure of the three North American electric power interconnections, from the perspective of both topological and electrical connectivity. We compare the simple topology of these networks with that of random, preferential-attachment, and small-world networks of equivalent sizes and find that power grids differ substantially from these abstract models in degree distribution, clustering, diameter and assortativity, and thus conclude that these topological forms may be misleading as models of power systems. To study the electrical connectivity of power systems, we propose a new method for representing electrical structure using electrical distances rather than geographic connections. Comparisons of these two representations of the North American power networks reveal notable differences between the electrical and topological structures of electric power networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6153088
Pages (from-to)616-626
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Systems Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computer Science Applications


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