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Demonstrating the Smart Grid

Pilot projects clarify the vision of an intelligent utility system.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2008

for example, there’s an outage due to a fallen limb, the switches can talk to each other, lock out the damaged section of wire, keep the lights on in most areas, and send a report back to the utility’s dispatch center. That minimizes the outage until a crew arrives to make the repair.

“The UtiliNet radios are more than a radio. They are a computer that can transmit and receive,” says a consulting engineer with the utility. “We can write programs that run on the radio’s memory and turn switches and other utility equipment into intelligent devices. We’re leveraging technology to create real-time grid monitoring.”

The technology also is helping the utility meet the needs of its growing service territory. The company has developed a modular sub-transmission substation outfitted with the Cellnet transmitter.

The green pad-mounted cookie-cutter design is easier to site and install because it’s similar in style to the smaller pad-mounted transformers found in newer residential neighborhoods. The Cellnet technology is embedded in the substation and transmits real-time operating data back to the SCADA system.

“Our Midwestern cornfields are turning into housing developments and there’s a corresponding need for new substations to service those loads,” the engineer says. “The problem is, today’s property owners are not very receptive to substations. They tell us right up front, no fences, no barbed wire, and no utility poles.”

More importantly, the company is looking to leverage the communications network further, extending it to a variety of sub-transmission and distribution system components upstream and downstream of the substation.

“We’ve got this transmitter that’s the size of a stick of gum. We can write code and embed it in a component and turn it into an intelligent device,” he says. “So we’re meeting with vendors and examining all the devices on the network to determine how we can increase their ability to send and receive operating data and work in concert with other components.”


Advanced grid monitoring now also is taking center stage in Pennsylvania at PECO Energy. Pennsylvania’s legislature is considering a bill that would provide incentives to consumers and businesses to institute energy-saving measures such as replacement lighting and air conditioning upgrades. The bill also would require utilities like PECO to provide consumers and businesses with smart meters and time-of-use pricing plans.

Against that backdrop, PECO has instituted two pilot programs to help it determine the best way to use advanced metering data to improve overall distribution-system operations.

The first, which began in 2007, uses meter data gathered from Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood to determine whether upstream devices like transformers, fuses and cables are adequately sized to handle the increasing loads. Using the Cellnet+Hunt AMR system, data from 4,500 meters is collected and monitored on an hourly basis to establish the loads being placed on individual system devices throughout the day.

The second pilot is being conducted in Jenkintown, Pa., a small suburb just north of Philadelphia. In that pilot, the UtiliNet devices are collecting data every half-hour from 15,000 existing one-way meters and two dozen new two-way meters,