Getting SMART with Reliability
Keeping the lights on. In 2021 that is OREMC’s primary mission. Eighty-two years ago, it was to “bring the lights,” as Pearlie Mae Edwards of Folkston, Georgia, would say, to people in the rural farming communities of Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida. However, the “internet of things” that keeps us connected at home, work and in-hand requires ready power. While the means of delivering power—poles and wires—has not changed over time, equipment and technology has evolved to make the distribution system smarter: more reliable and less susceptible to power disruptions.
“Obviously the goal is zero outages,” says OREMC Engineer Kane Lee, “but the reality of zero power disruptions isn’t realistic due to weather, wind, wildlife, trees and accidents (i.e., car hits a pole). Therefore, our focus shifts to reliability and having outages impact the fewest number of members for the shortest amount of time.”
In 2018, OREMC went live with SCADA, a series of intelligent electronic devices (IED) installed in each of our 18 substations, combined with an integrated communications network, enabling system operators to recognize and assist with power restoration via remote operation of substation equipment. This was a first step toward initializing distribution automation. With distribution automation IEDs are installed along the power lines. Doing so sectionalizes the line by isolating the location of a fault (power disruption) to a certain section of line. This makes outage response time quicker, shortens the duration of the outage and affects the fewest number of people.
Lee explains, “When SCADA sends a notification of a fault, the system operator can communicate to linemen a more specific location of the fault on the line, keeping them from having to patrol the whole line to locate the cause of the outage. From there the system operator can remotely reconfigure the flow of power such that only the meters within a specific line section are affected by the outage, not everyone along the line.”
OREMC’s first distribution automation project was just completed before the new year between the Hoboken and Nahunta substations on the power line from running from Caney Bay to Hickox. On January 2 it was put to the test when a fault occurred on Caney Bay Rd. Instead of the outage impacting 256 consumer-members, linemen were quickly able to locate the fault, the line was reconfigured to isolate it and the outage only affected 43 members.
“We understand no one wants an outage,” acknowledges Lee, “but as this outage demonstrated, we were able to more quickly locate the outage, isolate it, impact significantly fewer members and restore power more quickly. Where we are headed with distribution automation is a self-healing system enabled by device-to-device communication that will detect a fault, self-isolate and reconfigure automatically.”
Lee demonstrated a self-healing line in action at OREMC’s simulation lab. It was instantaneous, such that in the field, members downline from a fault outside of the section where it is located, would likely not even experience a power blink.
“The distribution automation project completed between the Hoboken and Nahunta substations, and what Kane demonstrated in the lab is phenomenal engineering at work,” states OREMC Director of Engineering Darren Crews. “It is going to take some time to integrate system-wide, but Kane’s work is a game-changer for system reliability.”
Lee is quick to point out it is a team effort, not just within the engineering department, but staking, operations and IT. He says, “It is a collaborative process that I initiate in the lab, but requires input from those: building the lines, maintaining the lines and managing the communication systems that enable the automation, to make sure what is proposed not only works, but is configured the best way possible and does what is expected.”
The next distribution automation project supporting OREMC’s SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) goal of greater reliability will be between the Crooked River and Hi-Hat Substations on the Laurel Island Parkway circuit in Kingsland. This combined with other engineering initiatives to update technology on breakers and in substations, all work together to enhance load capacity and system integrity to meet increasing demand to power the lives of OREMC consumer-members every day.