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Major smart grid pilot project goes online

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Thursday, July 12, 2012

With the implementation of a new smart grid pilot project, PPL Electric Utilities will greatly increase its operating efficiency by adding next-generation technology to its existing electric infrastructure.

The grid modernization project will benefit both the utility and its 60,000 customers in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania region by strengthening the electric distribution system and making it more reliable and responsive. The project will last for three years, and will cost about $40 million, a portion of which was funded by a federal stimulus grant.

The system is touted to enhance several aspects of the company's duties. With new smart grid technologies, the utility will be able to quickly detect problems that cause power disturbances and outages, and will be able to redirect power flow to more quickly restore power to customers. The new system will also help lower carbon dioxide emissions by saving customers' energy, as well as providing a way to better integrate intermittent renewable sources, such as wind and solar, into the grid.

"This is the biggest technological improvement to the power delivery grid in decades," said Steve Gelatko, manager of Distribution Asset Management and smart grid project manager for PPL. "The smart grid is poised to produce real benefits to customers in the Harrisburg area and ultimately across our 29-county service area."

With the new system in place, PPL will use smart grid sensors to detect a fault - such as a tree falling on a powerline - that will automatically alert the utility and provide it with detailed fault data. The sensors will also send the energy to another circuit in the area.

PPL broke the new technology down into layman's terms by comparing it to the human body. The "brain" of the pilot program is a new distribution management system comprised of several operating programs. The system monitors and analyzes the flow of power. The "body" is comprised of more than 500 remote switches, relays, sensors and other intelligent electronic devices that gather information and operate on remote commands from the utility. The "nervous" system is made of high-speed communications equipment, such as wireless towers and fiber optic links.

This deployment is a strong example of how influential SUBNET products and solutions will be on the smart grid. From vendor-agnostic software to the ability to gather data from disparate IEDs across any communication platform, SUBNET is an integral part of utilities' smart grid projects all over North America. 

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