Image: PPL Electric Utilities

PPL Electric Utilities demonstrates the potential of smart grid automated power restoration in keeping the lights on.

A regular claim during the rollout of smart meters and smart grid has been the possibility with data and technology to better manage outages by learning about them earlier, fixing them faster and even avoiding them altogether.

PPL Electric Utilities, which serves about 1.4 million customers in central and eastern Pennsylvania, now demonstrates this. PPL estimates that in the past five years, its smart grid automated power restoration network has helped customers avoid 100 million minutes in the dark.

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This is achieved with the smart grid technology rerouting the power in the event of a problem, keeping the outage area contained to the smallest possible footprint.

“This is a milestone born of innovation and imagination, one we believe has no equal in the US utility industry,” said PPL Electric Utilities President Greg Dudkin. “It represents our commitment to using technology to benefit our customers and to providing superior reliability.”

The smart grid network with sensors and switches coupled with advanced software systems is part of a significant investment made by PPL in its power system over the past decade.

During that time, the company says it also has rebuilt ageing power lines, added more storm-resistant wires and poles and instituted data-driven equipment maintenance and replacement programmes. Other initiatives including a comprehensive tree trimming and removal programme.

New ways to improve reliability also are being sought. One example is a battery in service near Harrisburg to provide power to customers in the event of an outage. The customer experience would be essentially the same as smart grid automated power restoration. However, instead of reconnecting to the grid, homes would be temporarily powered by the battery. The technology is being considered for other areas in the PPL footprint.

PPL’s collective reliability efforts, bolstered by its smart grid gains, have reduced the average frequency of outages across its grid by nearly a third since 2011, the company said in a statement.