Reverse and Forward Engineering of Local Voltage Control in Distribution Networks

Xinyang Zhou, Masoud Farivar, Zhiyuan Liu, Lijun Chen, Steven Low

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus Citations


The increasing penetration of renewable and distributed energy resources in distribution networks calls for real-time and distributed voltage control. In this article, we investigate local Volt/VAR control with a general class of control functions, and show that the power system dynamics with nonincremental local voltage control can be seen as a distributed algorithm for solving a well-defined optimization problem (reverse engineering). The reverse engineering further reveals a fundamental limitation of the nonincremental voltage control: the convergence condition is restrictive and prevents better voltage regulation at equilibrium. This motivates us to design two incremental local voltage control schemes based on the subgradient and pseudo-gradient algorithms, respectively, for solving the same optimization problem (forward engineering). The new control schemes decouple the dynamical property from the equilibrium property, and have much less restrictive convergence conditions. This article presents another step toward developing a new foundation-network dynamics as optimization algorithms-for distributed real-time control and optimization of future power networks.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number9091863
Pages (from-to)1116-1128
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Automatic Control
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 1963-2012 IEEE.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5D00-76774


  • Distributed control and optimization
  • network dynamics as optimization algorithms
  • power networks
  • reverse and forward engineering
  • voltage regulation


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