Not just your everyday storm prep

White sandy beaches, lush greenery and turquoise waters don’t stay that way for long when a tropical storm or hurricane is barreling down on your island. Yet my experience with Tropical Storm Arthur in 1990, in my position as assistant information technologist in Grenada’s National Water and Sewage Authority, is just one major incident in the past 25 years that has fueled my passion for helping create the energy company of the future at PSE&G.

The Grenada experience helped me realize that a reactive, batten-down-the-hatches approach to storm management still allows major disruptions to customers’ lives, while incorporating proactive strategies, like equipment sensors, can prevent or reduce outages.

One day, we’ll have a system that minimizes equipment failure because it has been repaired or replaced — thanks to its digital twin, automatic data feeds and work orders created by artificial intelligence. We’ll have a more efficient system with facilities that last longer due to load optimization and equipment that “talks” to other equipment.

We’ll have instant access to data that can be used for better planning and to help customers save money on their PSE&G bills.

Technologies like electric vehicles, solar and battery storage will be supported by the system, as well as smart meters that help customers save money and reduce their carbon footprint through energy efficiency.

Energy Strong

It’s a vision that we started realizing through Energy Strong, a $1.2 billion program from 2014 to 2018 that served as PSE&G’s first phase of strengthening its system to make it more resilient against severe weather. Among other achievements, Energy Strong allowed us to incorporate advanced technology by deploying smart devices in the field, establishing a training simulator and building a centralized Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) lab.

Energy Strong II, a proposal to invest an additional $2.5 billion during the next five years to further strengthen the utility’s electric and gas systems, currently is before the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. It will bring the benefits of Energy Strong to many more customers.

As part of the Energy Strong II filing, we’ve proposed to add an Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) and build a secure fiber communications network. These advances would improve storm management assessment and restoration, significantly enhancing customer satisfaction.

Smart devices, computing power and fewer outages

Before SCADA our divisions had various computer systems that didn’t interact, making it difficult to share resources. Service technicians and others did not have remote or mobile access to critical information. SCADA allows better planning and communication by delivering mobile access to more people and better views of useful information.

Now, during storm response, divisions can easily access each other’s information to help each other out or to learn about responses to similar events. Senior managers have better oversight for making time-sensitive decisions. Contractors and those providing mutual aid services have shorter learning curves.

Adding SCADA helped shorten outage times by using computers to pinpoint problems that troubleshooters used to have to go out and physically find, for example, by carefully examining an entire substation. The SCADA pinpoint shows a troubleshooter where the problem is, but not the cause or how to fix it.

Under Energy Strong II, ADMS would bring new computing power to analyze the problem so that a troubleshooter could head out armed with a plan and the equipment to fix the problem.

Better still, real-time data from the field, fed from the proposed communications network, would allow ADMS to identify potential problems before they arise.

Currently equipment, like transformers, wears out based on age and loading, and can be damaged by external conditions such as weather and lightning. Estimating exactly when a transformer might fail can be difficult, but is made easier using analytics through ADMS.

Not only will ADMS predict when a transformer might fail, but it will also offer recommendations for intermediate repairs or load shifting before an expensive replacement is necessary.

Proactive and predictive systems

The Energy Strong upgrades have primarily improved our reaction to storms and other situations. We can serve customers better, however, by taking proactive measures like replacing older field devices with smart equipment.

Under Energy Strong II, we plan to enhance reliability by adding needed equipment to our utility circuits — like advanced reclosers that quickly correct faults without allowing an outage. In addition to their safety functions, these modern field devices automatically send real-time data to SCADA.

The proposal also enhances our training so that all employees can use their advanced computer systems, and also improves our ability to respond to technical difficulties. Before SCADA, each division had different ways of resolving computer hardware, software and networking challenges. With SCADA we created a centralized team, primarily of electrical engineers, that both manages advanced systems and serves as 24-7 “tech support.”

ADMS and the communication network support the grid of the future. They allow for more distributed energy resources, including solar, wind and batteries, and enhance system efficiency.

Satisfied customers

The Energy Strong II proposals would upgrade our system so that we have more advanced functionality; better outage management; more precise fault location; better communication, planning and maintenance; more technical support; and, a better foundation so that we can support renewables.

When planning these highly complex and robust systems, we only request what we absolutely need to deliver the best possible services to our customers.

Francis Frank, Technology Group Product Mgr, Utility Technologies

1 comment

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  • Modern technologies is an essential part when we deal with disasters.Your company is really useful and progressive. As for me, I like surf through the Internet and discover different scientific & technological development ideas and inventions. Your article is great. Thanks.

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