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2nd International Conference on Electrical and Information Technologies ICEIT’2016

New Encoding Based on the Minimum Spanning Tree

for Distribution Feeder Reconfiguration Using a
Genetic Algorithm
Vincent Roberge, Mohammed Tarbouchi, Francis Okou
Royal Military College of Canada, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Kingston, Canada ; ;

Abstract—Power distribution networks are typically solver is tested on network ranging from 16 to 4400 buses and
structured in a radial topology with extra tie switches to allow for revealed to be very powerful and efficient. For all test cases, it
a manual reconfiguration in case of unexpected failure or found solutions of equal or better quality than previous works
scheduled maintenance. With the implementation of the smart
grid, it is now realistic to also consider the power demand while maintaining a much shorter execution time. The
fluctuation and have real-time reconfiguration of the network to contribution of this paper is the new solution encoding proposed
always operate in the optimal topology, minimizing distribution which allows the GA to efficiently optimize network five times
losses. In this paper, we propose the use of a genetic algorithm to larger than any of the deterministic and non-deterministic
find the optimal configuration of the network. The algorithm uses methods surveyed while maintaining a much smaller runtime.
a unique solution encoding based on branch weights and computes
the minimum spanning tree to decode the candidate solutions. This Feeder 1 Feeder 2 Feeder 3
novel encoding ensures that the radial topology of the network is
maintained without the need for complex operators resulting in an
efficient and powerful solver. Finally, the solver is tested on S4 S9
distribution networks ranging from 16 to 4400 buses. The quality S0 8 13
S6 S10
of the final solutions is equal or better, the maximum network size S5
considered is much larger and the execution time is significantly 10 14
shorter than that of state-of-the-art methods.
9 S14
S1 S8 S11
S2 5 11 12
Keywords—Distribution feeder reconfiguration; Genetic
algorithm; Minimum spanning trees. S3 S15 S12
6 7 16 15
Figure 1. 16-bus system (dash lines represent open switches)
The distribution feeder reconfiguration (DFR) is a large-
The power distribution network is the final stage in the scale, non-linear, non-convex combinatorial optimization
distribution of electricity. It connects the distribution problem. It can be formulated as finding the radial topology
substations (feeders) to the customers. Distribution networks that:
are typically structured in a radial topology and include minimizes
additional tie switches (normally open) to reconfigure the
network in case of failure, planned maintenance or demand ( ̅) = (1)
fluctuations. An example of a 16-bus distribution network [1]
is shown in Figure 1. With the implementation of the smart- subject to
grid, this reconfiguration can be automatized to adjust to | | ≤| |≤| | for = 1 (2)
demand fluctuations and always operate in the optimal
configuration minimizing distribution losses. In this paper, a | | ≤| | for = 1, … , (3)
genetic algorithm (GA) is used to find the optimal configuration where ̅ is the solution vector (topology of the network),
of the distribution network that minimizes real power losses. are the real power losses on branch , | | is the voltage
The proposed algorithm uses a unique solution encoding based magnitude at bus and | | is the apparent power on branch .
on a vector of real numbers and finds the minimum spanning | | ,| | and | | are the limits on the bus voltage
tree (MST) to decode the solution. This novel encoding ensures and the branch rating.
the radial topology of the network, does not require complex
operators and is compatible with most metaheuristics. The

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2nd International Conference on Electrical and Information Technologies ICEIT’2016

II. PREVIOUS WORKS rarely been used to solve network with more than a few hundred
Solutions to the DFR problem can be divided into three buses [10].
categories: heuristics, conventional programming and In this paper, we propose a completely different solution
metaheuristics [2]. Heuristic methods are knowledge-based and encoding for metaheuristics that intrinsically maintains the
developed from network operation experience. They include radial topology and allows the genetic algorithm to be effective
the branch exchange [3] and the loop segmentation [4] methods. and fast on networks with up to 4400 buses, much larger than
In the branch exchange method, the search starts from a feasible for any of the references surveyed.
topology and a pair of opened and closed branches is selected
for exchange. The exchange takes place only if the resulting
topology is radial. The search stops when no more improvement III. PROPOSED OPTIMIZATION STRATEGY
is possible. In the loop segmentation method, all branches are A. Genetic Algorithm
initially closed. The mesh graph is analyzed to identify all The genetic algorithm is a metaheuristic inspired from the
fundamental loops. The algorithm then opens one branch per Darwinian evolution and was proposed by Holland in
loop in order to obtain a radial network. Both the branch 1975 [16]. It is an optimization technique that uses selection,
exchange and the loop segmentation methods have a severe crossover and mutation operations to improve the fitness of
limitation. Being deterministic algorithms, their search is solutions mimicking how living organisms have adapted to
greedy and they are unable to escape local optima. their environment since the beginning of their existence. The
Conventional programming methods include mixed-integer pseudo-code of the GA is listed in algorithm 1. The algorithm
conic programming (MICP) [5], mixed-integer linear begins at line 1 with a population of candidate solutions
programming (MILP) [5] and mixed-integer quadratic randomly generated. The solution encoding is explained in the
programming (MIQP) [6], [7]. These methods aim to simplify section III-B. The algorithm then starts its iterative process at
the problem formulation so that it becomes tangible by classical line 2. Each iteration begins at line 3 with the evaluation of the
optimization technics. As outlined in [7], conventional candidate solutions. The fitness function used for this
programming methods do not require an initial solution, are evaluation is discussed in section III-D. Based on the fitness
guaranteed to find the optimal solution within the simplified values calculated, parent solutions are selected at line 4 and
formulation used and the distance to that optimal solution is used to generate new solutions at line 5. The newly created
known at every iteration. These methods have been shown to solutions are then subject to a mutation at line 6. Then, the old
be efficient on networks up to 880 buses [6], [7]. Unfortunately, solutions are replaced by the new ones at line 7 and the iterative
they can have very long execution time and they are only as process continues until the maximum number of iterations is
good as the simplified formulation used. achieved. We refer the reader to [17] for a comprehensive
Finally, metaheuristics are high level strategies that guide description of the GA.
the search though iterative improvement of candidate solutions.
Examples of metaheuristics that have been used for DFR are the
ant colony optimization (ACO) [8], the genetic algorithm Algorithm 1. Pseudo code of the Genetic Algorithm
(GA) [9], the artificial immune system (AIS) [10], the particle 1: generate population of candidate solutions
2: for (int i = 0; i < num_iterations; i++) {
swarm optimization (PSO) [11], the bees algorithm (BA) [12] 3: compute fitness of candidate solutions
or the imperialist competitive algorithm (ICA) [13]. 4: select parent solutions
Metaheuristics have the advantage of escaping local optima and 5: generate children solutions by crossover
can be used with non-differentiable objective functions. 6: mutate children solutions
7: replace parent solutions
However, the main challenge is to maintain the radial topology 8: }
of the distribution network when generating or modifying 9: Return best solution
candidate solutions. Some authors such as [14] proposed to
simply run the metaheuristic as is and rely on the fitness
function to penalize candidate solutions that are not radial. In our implementation, the candidate solutions are encoded
Others such as [9] or [15] developed complex operators to as a vector of real numbers between 0 and 1. The solutions are
maintain that radial topology. Yet, both methods have severe randomly initialized using a uniform distribution. Once the
limitations. In the first case, the approach is not scalable to fitness of every candidate solution has been computed, parent
larger networks as the probability of generating radial candidate solutions are selected by tournament [17] from a pool of three
solutions can be very small. In the second case, the complex candidates randomly selected. Every couple of parent solutions
operators are limited to the neighborhood of a known solution produces two children solutions by uniform crossover [17].
and therefore reduce the exploration of the search space. Once created, a child solution may be selected for a mutation
Moreover, both approaches require that the topology of every based on a selection probability of 0.1. If selected, its elements
candidate solution be verified using a graph traversal operation, are modified using a uniform random mutation [17] with a
resulting in a long execution time. In short, metaheuristics have probability of 0.2. When an element is modified, it is randomly
moved within a range of 0.25. The uniform crossover and the
2nd International Conference on Electrical and Information Technologies ICEIT’2016

uniform random mutation operations are illustrated in Figure 2. 1

Finally, the parent solutions are replaced by the children and the 0.7
iterative process continues for a fixed number of iterations. 0.5 8 13
0.8 0.4
Parent 1: Child 1: 10 14
9 0.0
0.5 0.1 0.8 0.7 0.5 0.9 0.1 0.8 0.8 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.3
Parent 2: Child 2: 0.9
0.5 5 11 12
0.9 0.3 0.4 0.8 0.1 0.5 0.3 0.4 0.7 0.5
(a) 0.7 0.8 0.6
6 7 16 15
Child 1: Mutant Child 1:
0.9 0.1 0.8 0.8 0.1 0.9 0.1 0.7 0.8 0.2 Figure 4. Undirected weighted graph for the 16-bus network with feeder buses
grouped into a single root node and values from the solution vector assigned to
(b) branch weights
Figure 2. Uniform crossover (a) and uniform random mutation (b)

B. Solution Representation S9
The proposed algorithm is quite different from previous S0
8 13
works in the way it encodes its candidate solutions. Previous S6 S10
works mostly used (a) a vector of binary numbers representing 10 14
the state (open/close) of every branch, (b) a vector of integer 4
9 S14
S1 S8 S11
numbers identifying the index of the open branches or (c) a S13
S2 5 11 12
vector of integer numbers identifying the index of the open
branches within each fundamental loop [9]. In all three cases, S3 S15 S12
6 7 16 15
maintaining the radial topology of the network is a significant
challenge as it was discussed in section II. Figure 5. Configuration of the 16-bus network after the calculation of the
minimum spanning tree
In this work, we suggest encoding each candidate solution
using a vector of real numbers between 0 and 1 and of length
Branch ID 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
equal to the number of branches in the network. An example of Solution 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0
a randomly generate candidate solution for the 16-bus network Figure 6. Decoded solution vector
is illustrated in Figure 3. To decode the solution, the distribution
network is represented as an undirected graph. The multiple C. Backward-Forward Power Flow Analysis
feeder buses are grouped into a single root node. The real
numbers from the solution vector are assigned to their Once the radial topology associated with a candidate
respective branch and represent the weight of that branch as solution has been computed, a power flow (PF) analysis using
shown in Figure 4. The MST connecting the root to every node the Backward-Forward (B-F) method [19] is run in order to get
is then computed using the Borůvka algorithm [18] to get the the complex voltage at every bus. The B-F algorithm is the
radial topology associated with the candidate solution vector as method of choice for radial networks where the R/X ratio is
in Figure 5. Finally, the decoded solution vector in Figure 6 is typically high causing other conventional PF methods such as
simply the state (open(1)/close(0)) of every branch in the MST Gauss-Seidel or Newton-Raphson to diverge [20].
obtained. Although the Borůvka algorithm has the same The B-F algorithm required the radial network to be
complexity as the Prim’s or the Kruskal’s MST algorithms, it organized in layers. To do this, a simple depth first search can
was selected because it can be easily parallelized. be used to compute the depth of each bus. Each iteration of
The solution encoding proposed is simple, can be used by the B-F method consists of the following three steps:
most metaheuristics and does not require any application
specific operators such as those in [15]. It ensures the radial 1) Nodal current injection: Compute the current
topology of all candidate solutions and it is not limited to the injected at every node using:

neighborhood of a known solution. As we will see in section V,
the proposed encoding will allow for a superior DFR solver = −YV (4)
compared to state-of-the-art methods in terms of network size,
solution quality and execution time. where is the power demand; is the voltage as
calculated at the previous iteration, Y is the bus shunt
Branch ID 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 admittance, is the index of the node and ‘*’ is the
Solution 0.5 0.1 0.5 0.7 0.5 0.0 0.8 1.0 0.0 0.7 0.4 0.3 0.6 0.9 0.0 0.8 complex conjugate operator.
Figure 3. Encoded solution vector
2nd International Conference on Electrical and Information Technologies ICEIT’2016

2) Backward sweep: starting from the deepest layer and get the fitness ℱ( ) of the solution.
going up to level 1, apply Kirchhoff’s current law to 1+ ( , ̅ ), ( , )=1
ℱ( , ) = (11)
compute the current , in the branch connecting node ( , ), ( , )<1
to its parent using: This definition was carefully thought out so that infeasible
solutions all have a fitness between 0 and 1 and feasible
, =− + , (5) solutions, between 1 and 2.

where , is the current in the branch connecting node

Developing a fast DFR solver is critical as it will allow for
3) Forward sweep: starting from layer 1 and going down to the quick reconfiguration of the distribution network following
the deepest layer, apply Kirchhoff’s voltage law to a disturbance, a failure or a demand fluctuation. In the proposed
compute the voltage at node using: GA-based DFR solver, the part that is the most computationally
= + , (6) intensive is the evaluation of the fitness function. In fact, on a
Dell Precision T7600 workstation equipped with two 8-core
where , is the impedance of the branch connecting Intel Xeon E5-2650 CPUs, the solver takes 52.36 s to
node to its parent . reconfigure a 136-bus network using 1000 solutions over
200 iterations, but spends 50.98 s in the fitness evaluation. As
This iterative process continues until the largest correction this evaluation is done independently for each candidate
made to a bus voltage at the last iteration is smaller than a given solution, the work can be safely shared between multiple
tolerance. threads using a master-slave approach [21] where the master
D. Fitness Function thread controls the flow of the GA whereas the slave threads
evaluate the candidate solutions. On a multicore computer, this
Once a PF analysis has been run for every candidate
parallelization technique will allow for a better CPU utilization
solution, their fitness ℱ( ) can be evaluated. Firstly, the
and ultimately a shorter runtime. To find the number of threads
objective function ( ̅ ) must be calculated using equation (1)
that leads to the best speedup, we evaluated the fitness of 1000
and normalized between 0 and 1 where 0 represents a very poor
candidate solutions for five test networks and plotted in
solution and 1 represents a very good one:
Figure 7 the speedup (defined as ⁄ ) measured for
( ̅) = (7) different number of threads. The experiment was run on the
1 + ( ̅) computer system described above and the multithreading was
Secondly, a violation factor is calculated to account for the programed using OpenMP®. From the graph, we can see that
inequality constraints. To verify the constraint on the voltage the speedup levels after 32 threads. This is normal as the
magnitude limits at equation (2), each bus must be checked and workstation used has 16 physical cores and supports hyper-
any excess is quantified using: threading for a total of 32 virtual cores. For this reason, the
| |−| | number of threads used by the proposed DFR solver is set to 32
, | |>| |
| | −| | 14 33 70 83 136
(| |) = | | −| | (8) 20
, | |<| |
Speedup (Tseq / Tpar)

| | −| | 16
0 , | | ≤| |≤| | 12
where (| |) is the relative voltage magnitude excess at bus .
Dividing the absolute difference by the range to get a relative
value allows for a more meaningful comparison when the limits 4
vary from one bus to another. A similar equation is used to 0
compute the relative branch rating excess (| |) for every 1 2 4
8 12 16 20 24 28 32 36 40 44 48
Number of OpenMP threads
branch . The values calculated are then summed to get the total
Figure 7. Speedup versus number of threads for different test network
relative excesses ( ̅ ) for the entire network:
( ̅) = (| |) + (| |) (9)
As for the objective function, this sum is normalized between 0
In this section, the proposed GA-based DFR solver is tested
and 1 to form the normalized violation factor ( ̅ ):
on nine different distribution networks for which the details and
( , ̅) = (10) their source are listed in Table I. Seven of them are widely used
1+ ( , ̅) in the literature and two were created for this work. The
Finally, the normalized objective function and the 1760-bus network was built by copying two instances of the
normalized violation factor are grouped together as follows to
2nd International Conference on Electrical and Information Technologies ICEIT’2016

880-bus network and adding 20 extra tie switches to connect the efficient and powerful solver. The solver was tested on
two networks. The 4400-bus network was built in a similar networks ranging from 16 to 4400 buses. In all cases the
fashion, but using five instances and 50 extra tie switches. The proposed solver found configurations with lower power losses
data for all test networks is available in an online repository at while maintaining a much smaller execution time than any of
[22]. The program is coded in C++ in Visual Studio 2013 and the references surveyed, confirming the advantage of the novel
run on a Dell Precision T7600 workstation equipped with two solution encoding proposed.
8-core Intel Xeon E5-2650 CPUs. To take advantage of the
multicore CPU, the program is parallelized using master-slave TABLE II
approach [21] implemented in OpenMP®. In this parallel AND OTHER REFERENCES WHEN MINIMIZING REAL POWER LOSSES (PLOSS)
model, the master thread executes the GA sequentially whereas Test case Source Ploss (kW) Qloss Vmin (p.u.) Vavg (p.u.) Runtime
the evaluation of the candidate solutions is done in parallel by (kVAR) (s)
the slave threads. 16-bus Initial 511.4 590.4 0.969 0.985 -
ACO [8] 466.1 544.9 0.972 0.987 1.81
TABLE I GA [9] 466.1 544.9 0.972 0.987 2.1
DETAILS OF THE TEST CASES Our GA 466.1 544.9 0.972 0.987 0.01
Test case details GA config. 33-bus Initial 211.0 143.0 0.904 0.945 -
Test case
NFeeders NBuses NBranches Load (MVA) Nsoln Nphases Nite. AIS [10] 139.6 102.3 0.938 0.965 16.9
16-bus [1] 3 13 16 28.7 + i 17.3 128 1 10 PSO [11] 139.6 102.3 0.938 0.965 5.69
33-bus [23] 1 32 37 3.7 + i 2.3 512 1 20 Our GA 139.6 102.3 0.938 0.965 0.06
70-bus [24] 2 68 79 4.5 + i 3.1 1024 2 50 70-bus Initial 227.5 204.9 0.905 0.950 -
83-bus [25] 11 83 96 28.4 + i 20.7 1024 2 50 GA [9] 203.2 186.6 0.931 0.953 4.64
136-bus [26] 1 135 156 18.3 + i 7.9 1024 2 100 GA [27] 203.9 191.1 0.927 0.953 160
415-bus [5] 55 415 480 141.8 + i 103.5 1024 3 200 Our GA 201.4 185.1 0.931 0.954 1.17
880-bus [7] 7 873 900 124.9 + i 74.4 1024 3 200 83-bus Initial 532.0 1374.3 0.929 0.970 -
1760-bus 14 1746 1820 249.7 + i 147.7 1024 3 300 PSO [11] 471.1 1252.1 0.952 0.972 36.1
4400-bus 35 4365 4550 624.4 + i 371.8 1024 3 500 AIS [10] 469.9 1248.0 0.953 0.972 160
Our GA 469.9 1248.0 0.953 0.972 1.40
In the first test, the GA-based solver is used to compute the 136-bus Initial 320.3 702.7 0.931 0.975 -
GA [28] 280.7 611.0 0.961 0.977 32.6
optimal radial topology that will minimize the real power losses MICP [5] 280.1 611.1 0.959 0.977 1800
of the distribution network. The algorithm is configured with Our GA 280.1 611.1 0.959 0.977 4.26
the parameters also listed in Table I. To account for the 415-bus Initial 2660.0 6871.6 0.929 0.969 -
difference of complexity between the multiple networks, MICP [5] 2359.9 - - - 1800
MILP [5] 2350.7 - - - 1800
different number of stages, iterations and candidate solutions Our GA 2349.4 6240.0 0.953 0.972 39.78
were used for each network. The details of the solutions found 880-bus Initial 1496.4 1396.5 0.956 0.987 -
by the proposed GA-based solver are available online for MIQP [6] 461.4 - 0.982 0.990 3192
download at [22]. All calculations were done in double MIQP [7] 461.0 566.7 0.992 0.995 1134
Our GA 457.0 563.3 0.992 0.995 63.63
precision and a tolerance of 1E-10 p.u. was used for the PF 1760-bus Initial 2992.9 2793.0 0.956 0.987 -
analysis. To allow for a comparison with other works, the Our GA 821.7 1014.9 0.992 0.996 195.75
power losses and bus voltages associated of the solutions found 4400-bus Initial 7482.2 6982.5 0.956 0.987 -
and those of other works are listed in Table II. From the results Our GA 1905.3 2399.5 0.992 0.996 931.24
obtained, we can make the following conclusion. Firstly, the
proposed method finds solutions of equal or better quality for
all test cases. Secondly, its execution time is significantly
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