New Approaches to Distribution Automation

PUBLISHED ON Jan 30, 2007

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Warren Causey, Vice President, Sierra Energy Group, on the WE Energies DV2010 initiative. The NovaTech Automation DA-Master is a key technology in the project.


Most people are aware that the electric distribution and transmission systems are aging and subject to periodic failure — with some of those failures being rather spectacular. But that’s just one side of the coin. The other side is that the distribution systems have proven remarkably reliable in most areas, major outages are rare in most parts of the country and the industry is not sitting still while these assets and technologies age. In fact, many advances are under way that eventually should lead to the self-healing intelligent grid that is receiving more attention these days.

Many people also are aware that the electric distribution system, based on Thomas Edison’s original work, continues to incrementally improve through new science and technology. However, while new and better products with higher capacities and materials have emerged, Edison’s fundamental scientific concepts remained unchanged for many years — that is until the arrival of distribution automation (DA) in the 1980s and 1990s.

DA emerged after the discovery that remote communications systems could be overlaid on the grid to remotely — and in some cases automatically — manipulate basic switches, capacitors, relays and other devices necessary to control a large and complex array of power lines, substations and other elements of the system. This made correcting a fault and rerouting power around it much quicker, further reducing the impact and duration of outages.

DA handles this remote manipulation along with a software application system called SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition). SCADA allows dispatchers to see what is happening on the system and make changes remotely.

Bringing DA to the Masses

Now, a consortium of utilities and vendors called DV2010, LLC, (Distribution Vision 2010), led by WE Energies, in Milwaukee, Wis., is working to bring DA to another level, making the distribution system so automated that it virtually corrects itself without human intervention. The basic idea is to take high-speed, fiber-optic based communications systems, overlay them on the distribution grid, and develop intelligent devices that can do the switching and adjustments remotely, using more than one pathway for the electricity — in effect dynamic reclosing.

“We did some self-examination and found that the practical limit of U.S. distribution systems is four nines of quality,” says Russell P. Fanning, principal engineer, distribution automation, for WE Energies. “Customers equate reliability to electric service availability. Radial feeder electric distribution systems deliver levels of perceived reliability that are typically in the range of 99.98 percent available service. That equates to about 100 minutes of annual outage time on a given system, as indicated by what’s called SAIDI (system average interruption duration index). The goal of DV2010 is to deliver less than one minute of qualified outages to customers per year, or 99.9998 percent available service. ”


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