AEP continues to make significant investments to modernize the transmission grid, replace aging facilities, target poorly performing assets such as outdated substations and utility poles, and improve grid security. These improvements help reduce our future costs to maintain the electric power system and ensure the continued reliability of the grid for our customers.
A large portion of AEP’s investment focuses on replacing or upgrading facilities identified as underperforming or obsolete. Replacing them reduces maintenance costs while improving efficiency and reliability performance. In addition, our investments are enhancing grid security and modernizing the telecommunications network that supports the electric system. This enables us to locate, diagnose and respond more quickly when reliability issues occur.
AEP’s planned transmission investments are determined by four key drivers, as shown in the diagram below. The value and benefits of the investments are outlined in a 2020 comprehensive study completed by Guidehouse Inc., which supports AEP’s thoughtful transmission planning.
- BOLD® Advantages
AEP’s Breakthrough Overhead Line Design® (BOLD®) technology is an example of groundbreaking innovation designed to improve reliability, grid resilience and services for customers. BOLD features lower tower profiles and increase capacity within the same right-of-way. This makes it an attractive design option in dense areas and a conscientious response to public objections to taller and more conspicuous traditional towers. In addition, the single-pole design provides important environmental benefits, including fewer line losses and avian interactions.
Highlights of BOLD projects in 2019 that addressed the need for higher transmission capacity in congested areas include:
- The Deer Creek-to-Sorenson rebuild in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which includes replacement of 35 miles of 90-year old 138-kV double-circuit line with modern infrastructure as part of the ongoing asset renewal for the benefit of customers.
- The Jug Street Corridor rebuild that featured more than 6 miles of 345-kV double-circuit line rebuild in New Albany, Ohio, to address a need to add capacity to an existing corridor.
- Prefabricated Transmission
Since 2015, AEP has worked with prefabricated technology to build transmission substations more efficiently, safely and less expensively. In addition to efficiency gains, prefabrication can reduce the length of construction-related outages, speed up installation, improve safety by minimizing risk exposure and minimize waste. There were 14 prefabricated conductor assembly or structural assembly installations in 2018, with an additional 34 projects in 2019 and 37 more projected for installation in 2020.
In July 2019, AEP Transmission installed its first 345-kV prefabricated Rural Bay structure at Princess Station in Cannonsburg, Kentucky. At 21 feet assembled, it is the widest component ever transported on the AEP system. A second structure was installed at the West Carroll Station in Hillsville, Virginia, in August.
In addition, 98 prefabricated foundations were installed in 2019. We were able to combine prefabricated foundations with prefabricated structural assemblies twice, first at West Carroll in Virginia and second at Causeway in Texas. It is our intent to make these foundations the standard, rather than the exception, as cost savings and time efficiencies grow.
- Extended Reality
The thread that connects the legacy analog power grid of the past with the modern, digital grid of the future may lie in the three-dimensional and colorful world of augmented and virtual reality, or extended reality (XR). We are using XR and its wearable technologies to help us bridge the real and digital worlds, saving us money and time while enhancing safety and training efforts.
AEP has used XR since 2017, when we first used it as a potential tool for conducting virtual site visits of field operations. Today, we use XR for a multitude of purposes, including training, construction and more. A single employee equipped with XR goggles can conduct a virtual site visit, entering a station and interacting with stakeholders remotely through web streaming. A new employee can also use XR to train for fieldwork without leaving the safety of an office setting. Additionally, safety training can effectively use XR to provide virtual scenarios for seldom occurring events.
We have developed several new projects around this exciting technology:
- New station engineering design standards models are using the XR technology to conduct virtual site visits, as the design develops, to quickly identify errors within the models that may have been overlooked using traditional 2D or 3D models. Based on the early success of this pilot program, we updated our Station Engineering Design Standards to include XR review of all design models going forward. We also released updates that improve how engineers can visually collaborate on a single design remotely.
- In response to the success of our Station Standards VR efforts last year, we realized that VR provides an excellent opportunity for immersive training. We created a VR learning platform with several training experiences centering on safety, including fire extinguisher and qualified observer educational modules.