Beating outages through distribution management


The smart grid brings many opportunities and benefits to the utilities that are prepared to seek them out. Louisville Gas & Electric Company (LG&E) and Kentucky Utilities Company (KU), part of the PPL Corporation, serve more than 1.3 million customers in Kentucky and neighbouring Virginia. 

This article was originally published in The Global Power & Energy Elites 2021.

The utilities have gained a reputation for their system enhancements, particularly when it comes to leveraging distribution automation and other advanced technologies to drive network efficiency and protect service reliability. The two utilities are in the final phase of a $112 million multi-year Distribution Automation initiative to upgrade their advanced distribution management system, extend their SCADA capabilities, integrate more than 1,500 SCADA-connected reclosers and deploy a new suite of mobile solutions for field workers.

Coupled with crews’ field work, these investments mean greater efficiencies, more real-time data, improved reliability and a better experience for customers. The Distribution Automation initiative is part of the utilities’ ongoing electric system investments. It allows the utilities to immediately pinpoint the location of power outages, and in many cases, limit the impacted area and automatically restore service for all other customers. More quickly pinpointing the outage location also means crews can respond sooner to make any necessary repairs. As a result of this advanced technology and the utilities’ ongoing investments, within the last decade, outage frequency and duration have been reduced by 20% across the utilities’ electric system.

The initiative had its origins in an earlier programme to identify circuits where outages most frequently occurred. In order to make additional, significant gains beyond traditional circuit improvement approaches, the utilities searched for the next ‘big step’ improvement and this led to distribution automation. The programme was started in 2017 and since then it has proved to be what Jason Jones, LG&E and KU’s Distribution Systems: Compliance, and Emergency Preparedness Manager, describes as a “journey rather than a destination.” This advanced technology has prevented more than 186,000 customer interruptions accounting for more than 31 million outage minutes when customers would have been without power on the distribution system alone.

A popular misconception is that automation leads to job losses. Rather, through this initiative, the utilities added new positions for engineers and operators in their control centres, while field workers remain as important as ever to make repairs and restore customers’ service. Another challenge experienced was working with the vendors. For example, SCADA vendors were found to not be fully familiar with outage management systems and vice versa, even though advanced distribution management is effectively a merger of these among other technologies.

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