Energy management: SMUD electrical grid charges into the future

Power management: Smart grid technologies reduce outage time and large outage potential.

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Energy management: There is big change in the electric utility world, especially at SMUD -- and for the better for its customers when it comes to managing power outages. Digital meters and automation technology are changing an industry that, for about a hundred years, remained the same -- since Thomas Edison. The SMUD grid is taking leaps and bounds in becoming a smart grid.

At SMUD, the electric utility digital transformation to the smart grid is in full swing. In 2009, thanks to the diligent work of Congresswoman Doris O. Matsui, SMUD won a $127.5 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to install a comprehensive regional smart grid system extending from the big transmission lines all the way down to the customers’ service panel.

The DOE grant helped SMUD install more than 600,000 smart meters on homes and businesses, and develop and deliver its smart grid programs. The smart meters are part of what’s called automated metering infrastructure. While automatically calculating and accurately billing energy usage, the meters also let SMUD know when there is a problem.

The meters are now integrated with SMUD’s outage management system and automatically report outages to system operators in SMUD’s control center, enabling quicker and more efficient restorations. They are able to determine the extent and scale of outages, and estimate the location of the outage based on which meters are reporting power out.

SMUD is also utilizing the smart meter data to identify power quality issues. Examples include, when a service transformer is failing or overloaded, when substation settings need to be updated and even when the service has a bad wiring connection. SMUD can now take a proactive approach to power quality. In the past, SMUD was dependent upon customers reporting an issue or workers identifying it during an inspection cycle.

Another key aspect of upgrading the smart grid is automated switching technology, which is also enhancing power reliability. Electric power travels along high-voltage transmission lines to large power substations and eventually to the circuits comprised of transformers and cable at the street level.

SMUD is installing automation technology on its bigger circuits, the ones that connect the substations and serve thousands of customers directly. These circuits are 69,000 volts and are the backbone of the SMUD system.

When there is a fault or failure on one of these lines the outage potential is huge and multiple neighborhoods can be affected. Significant time and labor are involved to restore power. In the past, SMUD would send a troubleshooter to locate and identify the problem and, if possible, manually restore the fuse or switch the affected customers to other circuits. With automated switches, restoring power is much quicker.

Here’s how it works: Bolted onto poles, the devices report power line conditions to SMUD’s control center. Once the technology detects a fault on the system, it automatically controls the switching devices to isolate the problem. This information is sent back to SMUD’s control center and system operators can begin to remotely operate additional switches to restore power. Instead of having 2,000 customers out, fewer than only 200 might be affected. For those customers restored through the use of the remotely operable switches, the outage will only last a few minutes. In the past, when relying on troubleshooters to manually switch these devices in the field, customers would have experienced an outage that lasted around an hour.

Reliability is a core value of SMUD, a policy set by the SMUD Board of Directors, which is elected by SMUD customers. To fulfill that policy, SMUD’s smart grid continues to evolve and develop into a highly complex bidirectional, data-driven system to meet customers’ expectations, which are becoming ever more diverse in the use of power.

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