By effectively employing digital technologies, electric co-ops are gaining increased system awareness and discovering new opportunities to implement complex load management schemes.
By John Lowrey
ILLUSTRATION BY MARK SHAVER
In war, added intelligence leads to more effective strategies. The same rationale applies to smart grid deployment: By combining Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems with digital meters and a wide range of automated down-line devices, electric co-ops are able to take their investments to the next level.
For example, fine-tuning voltage levels through conservation voltage reduction (CVR) provides a way to shave peak demand. Higher-speed communications and improved distribution equipment, as well various software tools such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), outage management systems (OMS), and geographic information systems, make it possible to transmit signals to transformers, circuit breakers, regulators, and other components to initiate diagnostic or corrective actions. Volt/volt-ampere reactive (VAR) control can produce quick payback by lowering line losses, increasing power transfer capabilities, and enhancing overall power quality.
One of the most promising smart grid technologies, distribution fault anticipation (DFA), taps high-resolution down-line monitors and cutting-edge algorithms to pinpoint problem spots before they morph into full-blown outages. But like many other aspects of distribution automation, its Achilles' heel rests with data overload. Although a remote sensor on a recloser may create a message of only a few hundred bytes, if you multiply that by thousands of sensors and readings taken every second, the information volume becomes overwhelming.
"It's simply too much data for a dispatcher to deal with," comments Steve Collier, vice president of business development for Milsoft Utility Solutions (milsoft.com). "And most co-ops can't afford the staff needed to watch what's taking place out on a line under a microscope. To alleviate this concern, within the next five years, we're going to witness a surge of DFA tools."
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