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Grid Modernization Boosts Power Restoration

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As utilities use more smart grid solutions, they gain a number of key benefits, including more efficient electricity transmission, reduced energy costs, and an increase in renewables integration. Another important one is the smart grid’s ability to notify operators of power outages and self-heal.

Process Automation

Sensors and other types of equipment enable the system to identify and isolate malfunctioning parts to prevent further failure and to begin the restoration process. All these steps occur before human intervention is needed. Once humans do step in, they can work more efficiently because they already know where and what the problem is.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy report that shares key results from Smart Grid Investment Grant projects incorporating distribution automation (DA) technologies, this type of fault, location, isolation, and service restoration (FLISR) technology has reduced customer minutes of interruption (CMI) by up to 51 percent, and customers interrupted (CI) by up to 45 percent.

Smart Meters

The smart grid also includes smart meters, which help to report outages in the first place. Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), during its Smart Grid Demonstration Project, installed advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to replace an automated meter reading (AMR) system.

KCP&L Manager of Smart Grid Technology Planning and project principal investigator Ed Hedges notes, “When we’d have an outage with AMR, we were lucky to get 25 percent of the outages reported. Now we’re seeing 90 percent of the outages coming in, and more than 95 percent of the restoration messages are getting through.” In addition, the outage management improvements enabled KCP&L to avoid over 5,000 truck rolls and save just over $104,000. Best of all, in conjunction with equipment on the distribution system called Fault Isolation and Service Restoration (FISR), AMI helped to eliminate outages.

Utilities Get Smart

Each utility must determine how “smart” they want to be, and what that should look like, depending on geographical conditions, customer preferences, and financial feasibility. Renewable Energy World reports, “Michigan’s two largest utilities plan to spend $7.2 billion over the next five years to improve electric reliability while preparing for more electric vehicles and distributed generation.” The upgrades will include “remote-sensing equipment and automation that is able to transfer circuits and recover power faster.”

According to a Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) report, Xcel Energy is considering “advanced analytics and data, specifically using geospatial or satellite data combined with other information to target at-risk assets of various types before and after storms. With technology that can identify dead trees of fast-growing vegetation, Xcel Energy believes utilities can develop proactive strategies for vegetation management to prevent damage to poles and wires caused by a natural disaster.”

Many smart options are available for utilities as they think through what problems are most pressing for their customers, which current equipment is weakest, and what processes they need to strengthen to reduce the frequency and duration of power outages.

What smart grid components does your utility use? How has their use improved service for your customers? Please share in the comments.

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