As we incorporate more smart technologies, the distribution grid becomes more complex and an increasingly important resource. We use advanced planning tools to help us better understand how changing energy resources will impact our distribution system. We are also coordinating with transmission planning to understand how the changes in distribution affect the transmission grid.
Replacing our aging infrastructure to provide higher levels of reliability and grid resilience is just one piece of the puzzle. Our modernization efforts also include increasing substation and circuit capacity to prepare for increased use of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), such as photovoltaic solar, fossil fuel generation and energy storage. We are also physically relocating and strengthening circuits to make them less vulnerable to weather-related damage and to reduce the time it takes to make repairs. In some areas, we relocate overhead facilities underground to improve local reliability. As electric vehicles become more common, our modernization efforts are critical to managing the increased loads from electric vehicle charging across the grid.
In remote areas historically prone to outages, we are working to provide power redundancy in the form of back-up energy sources such as new circuits, circuit ties and substations. Depending on local site conditions, we also consider DERs to provide enhanced grid reliability and resilience.
In 2018, AEP Ohio continued installation of distribution automation circuit reconfiguration (DACR) in our systems. DACR automatically detects outages and reconfigures an affected circuit to isolate the problem, quickly restoring service to other parts of the circuit. Using this “self-healing” technology, we can strategically reroute electricity, reducing the number of customers affected during an outage while AEP crews make repairs to the damaged circuit(s). AEP Ohio is in the midst of installing DACR on 250 distribution circuits serving more than 330,000 customers. When the project is completed in 2023, we estimate that the added DACR will reduce SAIFI by nearly 16 percent.
We are seeing results from the investments we’ve already made. For example, in April 2018, an equipment issue led to a power outage affecting 6,000 customers in northeast Columbus, Ohio. DACR restored power to every single customer in just 100 seconds. Without DACR, this type of outage would typically last approximately 83 minutes.
Another technology being implemented through AEP Ohio’s gridSMARTSM program is Volt/VAR Optimization (VVO). In some areas, the technology is also known as Conservation Voltage Reduction (CVR). This technology automatically controls voltage levels on distribution circuits to more closely match the voltages demanded by our customers. Using VVO/CVR helps both the distribution system and our customers achieve greater energy efficiency while ensuring the same customer experience. In addition, the technology helps the power grid balance DER hosting capacity, improving grid adaptability. We plan to install VVO on 1,600 distribution circuits serving nearly 110,000 customers.
In 2018, PSO expanded its CVR program and began implementing new technology using data from its automated metering infrastructure (AMI) to better determine problems that may affect power quality for customers. PSO installed this technology on an additional 14 circuits in 2018. Currently, 52 PSO circuits are equipped with this technology.
Successful implementation of technologies such as DACR and VVO must be rigorously tested to ensure a seamless and reliable experience for our customers. Field testing new equipment can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, which can lead to delays in bringing these smart grid technologies online. In 2018, AEP Ohio opened a commissioning lab at our Operations Center in Groveport, Ohio. The new lab can complete critical diagnostic tests remotely with fewer employees than traditional on-site testing. This new testing process is a much safer and more efficient way for us to meet our smart grid goals.
Smart Grid Command Center
Network disruptions do not always happen during normal business hours. For this reason, our experts must be available quickly to identify and resolve issues whenever they occur. Our Smart Grid Command Center in Gahanna, Ohio, now offers 24/7 service monitoring for our entire network communications between AMI, DACR, VVO/CVR and underground network vaults. The Command Center team also supports the smart meters being installed throughout our Ohio operations.
What does this mean for our customers? More reliable service through faster identification and resolution of issues. If a router fails on a utility pole in Texas, the first to know about it will be our Smart Grid Command Center, more than 1,300 miles away. The Command Center will identify the problem and resolve it remotely, if possible, or dispatch a local work crew to the site to make the repair.
Underground Network Monitoring
At year-end 2018, we completed our multi-year, $84 million initiative across six operating companies to modernize and reinforce AEP’s 14 underground electrical networks. This Underground Network (UGN) monitoring project is changing the way we collect, communicate and use information and data to support the Operations, Engineering and Planning functions of the operating companies’ critical UGN systems.
The UGN project gives us the capability to monitor the networks in real time using fiber optics and cutting-edge sensor technology to capture data in five-second intervals. This gives us a real-time view of the distribution underground network. Our future success as an energy company depends on this capability as the distribution system becomes a more diverse, flexible system, allowing all resources to connect and manage demand at the same time.
With sensors and state-of-the-art telecom technology, we have a view of the underground system that we’ve never had before, allowing us to proactively manage the system. The insights we get from monitoring the system in real-time will also give underground network line crews more information about the facilities before they enter and as they prepare to perform their work, making it a safer work environment. Having this data will also support our ability to predict and prevent failures and fulfill other needs.