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O&R Utilities: focused on reliability, efficiency, Part II

Yesterday we focused on the model-centric approach taken by Orange & Rockland Utilities to improve reliability and energy efficiency. 

(See "O&R Utilities: Focused on Reliability, Efficiency.")

Today, Charlie Scirbona, manager of smart grid engineering at O&R Utilities, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison, Inc., discusses how O&R laid the groundwork for smarts on its distribution system. 

(O&R has two subsidiaries of its own, serving a population of 750,000 in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.)

The impetus for O&R's work began in 2006, prior to the onset of smart grid hype, if you will. 

"Essentially, we used to have low-level automation," Scirbona told me. "Just recently we've gotten to the point where we're getting hands-on SCADA. We're putting a SCADA system in so we can do a model-centric approach. 

"Prior to getting into this we didn't have a SCADA system," he continued. "In 2006 we started to make a determination of what sort of system we wanted, how we wanted to communicate with that system, how the system would communicate with field devices. We ended up having to build-out our radio system and our backbone communications and also install a SCADA system. We had a plan to move forward. 

"Now the SCADA system, our improved radio network and communications backbone are serving as the prerequisite for what we term `smart grid.' Once we had the prerequisites in place, we said, `Let's take a look at using some model-centric kinds of controls.'" 

That approach required building a detailed model of O&R's entire distribution system, using open architecture to avoid point solutions and vendor lock-in. All this work is approaching fruition. 

"By the end of the year I expect to have operating circuits under model-centric control for auto restoration and by end of first quarter 2013 for coordinated control," Scirbona said. 

The "coordinated control" piece is about voltage optimization for energy efficiency, another ongoing project at O&R. 

"The plan is to take in all the real-time data and the calculated data and store it," Scirbona said. "We want to be able to get at the energy usage on the circuit. So if we're dropping voltage on the circuit to minimum levels without `low-voltaging' anybody, we want to see what kind of energy savings results. We're also looking at loss reduction by being able to do a coordinated Volt/VAR control we can optimize the reduction of losses across that entire system of circuits. Normally you optimize for peak, but that's only 300 hours per year out of 8,760 hours. So there are some tremendous efficiencies to be gained by optimizing for the entire year versus just the peak period. In order to do that you need to be able to coordinate the control of both voltage and VARs—that's why it's called `coordinated control.'"  

I asked about lessons learned. 

"At the beginning, we added staff to cover this," Scirbona responded. "We added two `smart grid engineers,' a communications engineer, a protection engineer and a SCADA engineer. We started out with these positions as provisional, but we decided to make these full-time permanent because we're building out distribution automation across the entire system. 

"Whether or not we decide to put in automated restoration and coordinated control in elsewhere is another story—that depends on how the pilot project pans out," he added. "We've been building out our distribution automation since about 2002. We've gone from having four reclosers on the system to having about 300 now and we're going up to about 500 units." 

The more reclosers, the more granular the response can be. O&R's auto-restoration work enables it to isolate faults to 250 customer segments, down from 1,000 customer segments, increasing reliability and improving outage response.

Obtaining storm-related restoration efficiencies is a significant part of the project.   

"Because the computer system will isolate the fault and show the operator exactly what it did, the operator knows exactly where the crew needs to go to address the cause of the fault," Scirbona pointed out. "One of the most expensive things that a utility does is storm-related restoration. An all-hands-on-deck scenario can cost a small utility hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour. If you can use the auto restoration feature and you have granularity down to 250 customer segments, you're cutting a lot of time for crews that used to do switching to restore as many customers as possible before they even started the restoration work. So if you can eliminate the manpower that used to do the switching and dedicate them to do the repair work—even if you cut just eight hours' work in a multi-day storm—at $175,000 per hour, that becomes real money real fast."

Did the storms last fall generate support for O&R's model-centric project and ongoing distribution automation work? 

"We got punched pretty hard last fall," Scirbona said. "But remember, these systems are not live yet. Did it bring attention to our projects? Well, internally, the light came on that this project is a very good thing to get into service."

Phil Carson 
Intelligent Utility Daily 

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