It has been less than a year since Allentown, Pa.-based PPL Electric Utilities completed its smart grid pilot project, but customers in Dauphin and Cumberland counties already are reporting “negative” results—and that’s a good thing. Automating the distribution system has resulted in significantly fewer power interruptions and shorter outage durations. In fact, pilot participants see a 38 percent improvement in service reliability.
The reason? Smart devices now alert system operators in real time when an outage occurs—enabling them to remotely reroute power flow to quickly restore as many customers as possible; often, within minutes. By comparison, it might take a field crew an hour to get feet on the ground, examine the line, identify the problem, and reroute power to another circuit before addressing the localized fault.
Above, work progresses at a PPL substation in Pennsylvania (courtesy of PPL Electric Utilities).
The three-year demonstration project, supported by $19 million in matching funds from the U.S. Department of Energy, deployed hundreds of automated devices along 50 local distribution circuits serving about 60,000 customers. It also included enhancements to 10 area electric substations across 150 square miles and development of a dedicated, secure communications system. The reliability improvement was based on the performance of the newly automated circuits compared with non-automated circuits in the region over the past two years.
“We’re encouraged by the early success of the PPL smart grid in the Harrisburg area,” said David Bonenberger, vice president of Distribution Operations. “We’re implementing a stronger, more modern distribution system to better serve our customers for years to come.”
As a result of the success of the Harrisburg area reliability improvements, there are now plans to expand deployment of distribution automation in other areas of the PPL’s service territory over the next five years, beginning with a $10 million investment this year in the Pocono Mountains region, Bonenberger said. That initiative is expected to improve electric service to 70,000 customers in Monroe County, Pa.
The broader project also includes a new integrated distribution management system (IDMS), provided by Paris-based Alstom Inc., which will serve as the “brain” of the modernized delivery system that will help the company to more effectively manage outages. With updated electronic mapping, the IDMS will provide system operators with much greater awareness of how the system is operating in real time and will enable the delivery system to recognize and instantly respond to problems. Installation will be completed in 2014—offering the utility a suite of service advancements, including:
- Grid optimization,
- Outage time reduction,
- Situational awareness,
- Asset utilization and optimization,
- Crew management and safety
- Smart meter integration,
- Distributed resources integration,
- Electric vehicles integration, and
- Demand response integration.
“Our five-year business plan includes targeting circuit upgrades in areas that will realize significant reliability improvements,” Bonenberger said. “By targeting these areas, we’re planning our reliability investments to have the largest, most lasting effects possible to benefit our customers.”
Under the five-year plan, all of the company’s 1.4 million electricity delivery customers will be served by automated circuits by the end of 2018.
Edited by Alisen Downey