The distribution grid is complex and will become more so as more technology is deployed on the distribution side of the grid and as customer systems continue to grow. AEP has adopted advanced planning tools to help us better understand how variable resources will impact conditions on the system as they change. We are also coordinating with transmission planning to understand how the changes in distribution affect the transmission grid.
Known as Volt VAR Optimization (VVO), this technology has proven its technical viability in achieving demand and energy savings.
Many of the investments we are making in our distribution systems are to accommodate and use increased levels of distributed energy resources (DER) and to provide higher levels of reliability and resilience. Modernization projects include:
- Increasing electrical capacity of substations and circuits for higher levels of DER hosting capacity and to manage electric vehicle charging load to optimize the grid. An added benefit gives us greater ability to restore service to customers by reconfiguring circuits during outages.
- Physically relocating and strengthening circuits to make them less vulnerable to weather-related damage and to limit damage to equipment that requires long repair times, such as poles.
- Replacing aging infrastructure in substations and on circuits.
- Installing Distribution Automation Systems that provide automated circuit reconfiguration that will restore service to customers in undamaged sections of a circuit while repairs are being made to the damaged section(s).
- Installing Volt VAR Optimization (VVO) systems to give us tighter control of voltage levels to achieve energy efficiency that reduces consumption by customers and helps the grid to balance DER hosting capacity.
- Installing Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) on the distribution system to provide visibility of system conditions, remote control, and data that can be analyzed to more efficiently operate the system.
- Installing sensors to more quickly identify damaged line sections and to provide system condition data for analytics that could allow us to predict risks in advance, allowing us to be proactive.
- Providing back-up sources to remote areas that have historically been prone to outages when an upstream section of the power line is damaged. The sources being considered include new substations, new circuits, new circuit ties and DER. DER sources being considered include photovoltaic solar, fossil generation, and energy storage, depending on local site conditions.
- Continued expansion of Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) to provide customers more information and choice about their energy use, and to provide data to help us more efficiently operate the system as levels of DER continue to increase.
The speed of implementation and level of investment vary by operating company, as companies review customers’ needs to ensure the right mix of projects, with maximum customer benefit, and affordability. We continue to actively discuss the application of these technologies with regulators and stakeholders because their support is essential to make the investments that meet customers’ needs today and in the future, without financial harm to AEP.
For example, we developed new hardening standards for distribution lines. This includes increasing the basic pole size and strengthening guy wires and conductors. Each operating company is evaluating the aged and aging infrastructure on their systems and making capital investments annually in projects to replace and upgrade those facilities that pose the greatest threat to reliability.
In some cases, we have relocated overhead facilities to underground in neighborhoods in order to improve local reliability. This included a multi-year program in Oklahoma and other smaller, targeted areas across AEP’s service territory. In addition, we have installed Distribution Automation (DA) on approximately 5 percent of circuits system-wide to reconfigure the circuits to reduce the number of customers affected by circuit outages. Our regulated companies have targeted plans to continue expansion of DA during the next several years.