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Technology's Strategic Role

Fortnightly Magazine - August 1995

The analyzer detects the four key gases that are indicators of the most important types of developing problems that can lead to failure, such as partial discharges, arcing, paper insulation deterioration, and overheating. Prototypes of the sensor are now operating at three utilities; one of these is so impressed with the sensor's potential that it is negotiating for 40 additional units for systemwide application.

When equipment does fail, several new EPRI technologies can lower repair costs and reduce outage times. The perfluorocarbon tracer (PFT) system, for example, finds leaks in pipe-type transmission cables. PFT is an environmentally harmless compound with a chemical structure so rare it can easily be detected in air at concentrations of parts per quadrillion. The PFT is injected into the dielectric fluid of a cable while air samples are collected along the cable route by a repair crew with a portable gas detector that gives leak location accuracies of +/- two feet. Each application of the PFT leak locator can save tens of thousands of dollars compared to conventional methods, which often require extensive excavation.

Value-added Services

Retaining customers in a time of heightened competition requires a more service-driven appoach, particularly if a utility anticipates that it may not be able to provide the lowest-cost electricity under retail wheeling. When telecommunications companies were deregulated, they became more customer-oriented by developing value-added services, such as call

waiting and call forwarding.

Electric utilities can also provide more value-added services at the distribution level. The increasing use of digital technologies has heightened the impact of even brief outages and voltage dips on customers with sensitive loads. Many of these customers have responded by investing in uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and other power conditioning equipment. Soon, utilities will have access to technology that will enable them to offer customers premium quality power at lower cost, in return for long-term contracts.

EPRI's Custom Power (em an array of high-voltage electronic controllers that can mitigate many voltage disturbances on the distribution system (em is more cost-effective and energy efficient than a UPS system. A typical Custom Power configuration (em appropriate, for example, to serve a new industrial park (em would use three thyristor-controlled devices: a solid-state breaker; a static condenser, or STATCON; and a dynamic voltage restorer, or DVR.

The solid-state circuit breaker has a response time of less than one cycle. By providing rapid switching between feeders, these breakers greatly reduce the incidence of power interruptions and voltage sags for critical loads. Meanwhile, the static condenser holds the line voltage for the customer steady during the initial disturbance and subsequent switching operation. The dynamic voltage restorer regulates voltage and cancels harmonics by rapidly changing series compensation. Field trials of these Custom Power devices are scheduled to begin within the next year.

Asset Management

With the coming of open access, transmission systems have become the focal point for many of the competitive forces now shaking the industry. Over the next few years, both the volume and complexity of wholesale power transactions involving these systems are expected to grow rapidly. Unfortunately, overhead transmission facilities that