Preparing the Grid for Failure

The smart meter alone cannot be relied upon to restore power complete integration of smart grid systems will accelerate the restoration time.
Published: Sun 06 May 2012

Hurricane Sandy has opened the door to innovation and opportunities. This is according to Arshad Mansoor, a senior executive at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), who says that the integration of systems will bring fuller value to the modernization of the grid.

For the smart grid’s functions to be properly realized, years of systems integration, analytics development and major financial costs lie ahead, explains Mansoor.  He says that EPRI has a three-pronged approach to the smart grid’s resiliency:

  • Hardening-this involves “selective” undergrounding, vegetation management, hydrophobic coating for lines, substation storm surge and seismic design criteria
  • Recovery-identifying the location of damage, isolating the damaged area and restoring power
  • Survivability-providing customers with technology that will help them cope with a lengthy outage period. This is especially relevant for areas that are low on resources

Utilities should plan for failures

Mansoor is of the firm belief that infrastructure “can never be technically or cost effectively feasible to withstand everything that Mother Nature or a human act can throw at it.” For this reason, he suggests that utilities should plan for failures as physical damage will always delay restoration.

US utilities that were recently affected by Hurricane Sandy are now starting to take a more serious look at undergrounding. The replacement of some above-ground power lines with underground systems were shelved in the past due to the high price tag involved which would have seen an increase in consumers’ utility bills. According to NJ Spotlight, the state Board of Public Utilities is exploring the option of “selective” burying of underground lines, as well as getting utilities to create a “smarter” power grid to enable a faster power restoration. The state agency is also making plans to relocate, elevate or harden electric utility substations and switching stations. Hurricane Sandy managed to flood 58 utility substations which left tens of thousands without power.

Mansoor says that 100% undergrounding does not make sense but rather “selective” undergrounding at the extremities would be more effective if the main aim is to reduce restoration time.

The fully integrated smart grid system

Mansoor explains that a fully integrated smart grid system will also help to speed up power restoration but adds that it will involve a number of years and substantial investments. In order to gain the full advantage of smart grid-related systems, such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), geographic information systems (GIS), outage management systems (OMS), data analytics and workforce management systems, these must all be properly integrated. By integrating AMI with a GIS, utilities will be able to successfully “tag” or ID their customers.

If customers are tagged correctly, integration of an OMS, the development and application of appropriate data analytics and the integration of a work management system will result in a rapid restoration of power, explains Mansoor. However, before any of this can work, there needs to be a physical restoration of infrastructure (clearing collapsed trees and erecting new poles and wires).

Mansoor explains that many utilities have yet to achieve this level of smart grid development. He adds that systems integration and analytics cost more than the actual smart meters which makes for a “difficult sale but we’ve got to do it.”

Superstorms are becoming more prevalent. This is a reality that countries like the US have to face up to and plan for. With each assault, it is hoped that role players seize the
opportunity to learn from and improve upon the current situation.


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Intelligent Utility-EPRI: Sandy exposes smart grid limits, and maturity

Intelligent Utility-EPRI, Part Two: Sandy exposes smart grid limits, and maturity

NJ Spotlight-Sandy Spurs  New Look at Underground Power Lines, Grid Upgrade