By John Lowrey | RE Magazine
Electric cooperatives own and operate 42 percent of the total miles of electric distribution lines across the United States and serve members in far-flung areas that are often subject to extreme weather. For them, any technology with the potential to improve the resilience of the electric distribution system or reduce system maintenance costs is worth investigating.
So it wasn’t surprising when nine co-ops signed up to participate in the smart feeder switching (SFS) component of the Smart Grid Demonstration Project (SGDP), a $68 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiative funded by DOE, NRECA, and 23 partner cooperatives across 12 states.
“In our strategic plan, the two top things that we look at are technology and reliability,” says Jim Thompson, president/CEO of Adams Electric Cooperative in Camp Point, Ill. “We want to be a leader in technology and provide very reliable service to our members.”
The prospect of feeders that can self-heal without manual intervention when faults occur holds enormous appeal for co-ops. Project participants included Louisiana-based Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative, which was ravaged by three hurricanes in four years; Clarke Electric Cooperative in Iowa, which recently rebuilt more than 200 miles of line damaged by a severe ice storm, and Adams Electric, whose service territory lies in the Mississippi River flood plain, where rising waters can cripple the electric system and leave lines de-energized for months.
Project results showed SFS systems (smart switches, reclosers, transmission breaker relays, and communications devices) can produce significant improvements in outage avoidance and restoration. The equipment repeatedly showed it could reliably detect faults and reduce outages and outage durations.
Rapid restoration is only one benefit of SFS. Another is load balancing, which can reduce line losses. There are also second order benefits like customer satisfaction and increased revenue.