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Duke Energy overhauling Alamance power grid

  • May 28, 2019 12:40 pm GMT

May 26-- May 26--If you've seen Duke Energy crews seemingly everywhere lately working on power lines or installing new equipment, it's for a good reason.

The utility is in the middle of mass of power grid upgrades with four goals: improve reliability for customers; protect the grid against physical and cyber threats, including hurricanes and ice storms; expand solar energy and other technologies; and give customers more control over their energy use with smart meters.

The multi-year series of projects will strengthen the grid so Duke can restore power more quickly and easily. The improvements include stronger equipment, new poles, and technology to monitor the grid's status and alert Duke Energy staff when maintenance is required.

"The nice thing about these improvements is most of them, once they are installed, that benefit is available almost immediately to customers," said Duke Energy Communications Manager Jeff Brooks. "When they all work together, it really creates a much better experience and a much stronger grid."

One of the projects looks at underground power lines and the advantages and disadvantages of installing it. Installing an underground lines is expensive and can sometimes be less reliable than an overhead line, Brooks said, so Duke Energy has to weigh whether moving the line underground increases reliability. Customers in wooded areas usually get the most benefit from underground lines.

"What we have used is new data analytics to be able to look at the entire system and identify specific lines or sections between two poles that is not experiencing the same level of reliability, and then we place those sections of lines underground," Brooks said. "It improves the reliability for the customers served by that portion of line but it also prevents having to send the same crews out to the same locations so that those resources are freed up to help others. That benefits everybody."

The Willowbrook Drive and Davis Street areas in Burlington are seeing lines buried.

In addition to underground power lines, Duke Energy is upgrading power lines throughout Burlington to support new businesses and customers. The utility is also converting equipment to electric power for environmental benefits and to allow staff to remotely monitor and access the equipment. These upgrades are taking place throughout Alamance County.

"Every little improvement can help to make the grid more intelligent while also making it stronger," Brooks said.

The upgrades should decrease the amount of time it takes to restore power to customers, especially since there has been a statistical increase in the number and severity of storms in the last 20 years, Brooks said.

The last phase of improvements concern what Duke Energy calls the "smart-thinking grid." The technology automatically detects power outages and can reroute and restore power to some customers in less than a minute. The smart-thinking grid already in place reduced customers affected by power outages by 75 percent, and it prevented 80,000 extended customer outages during Hurricane Florence, Brooks said.

To create the grid, Duke Energy will install automated switches, monitoring technology and place new lines to provide more pathways to reroute the power. It has also deployed about 90,000 smart meters in Alamance County over the last few years, which allows customers to go online and see their energy use to make decisions on how to save money.

"This is real technology that can deliver benefits, and our goal is really to get the majority of customers in the Carolinas served by this technology over the next few years. It is going to be a game-changer for our restoration process," Brooks said.

The smart meters also assist with outage restoration. The technology can ping all the meters on a line to detect any outages. That saves Duke Energy from sending a person out and helps reduce final restoration time by two days, Brooks said.

"It is a new technology and one that will continue expanding options for customers," Brooks said.

Reporter Kate Croxton can be reached at or 336-506-3078. Follow her on Twitter at @katecroxtonBTN.


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