Power for the Ages
Power for the Ages
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Power for the Ages
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Georgia Power substation relay improvements make way for smarter energy solutions.

Background

With a focus on bringing more reliable, efficient and affordable power to consumers, electric utilities have upgraded their networks, preparing them for additional upgrades that will make meeting these goals a reality.

Since 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been a catalyst pushing the Department of Energy's (DOE) Smart Grid initiative forward by providing funding for improvements to many of the existing grid's aging systems.

Those systems require that technology be updated at the most basic level, starting with replacing substation distribution feeder relays, so that a move to the Smart Grid is possible. Georgia Power, one of four operating companies within Southern Company, is overhauling its entire network of substations in preparation for further Smart Grid improvements. Overall, Southern Company is using $165 million in stimulus funding through the DOE to pay for its substation relay upgrade efforts.

To kick-start this effort, Georgia Power hired Burns & McDonnell and other firms to upgrade the facilities. To date, Burns & McDonnell has retrofitted more
than 200 substations within the Georgia Power system.

"We are helping to build the backbone of the Smart Grid," says Dotun Famakinwa, transmission and distribution project manager in the Burns & McDonnell Atlanta office. "All of these projects are a tiny piece of the overall Smart Grid project."

Many of the substations are decades old, making the timing right to use stimulus funding for modernization.

Challenges

The size of the project is itself a challenge, but finding manpower to complete the project within the designated timeline is a substantive concern. "The schedule is very aggressive and the timeline is complex," Famakinwa says. "We needed additional resources to finish the job on time."

Engineers from several Burns & McDonnell regional offices were brought onto the project team to provide design services and conduct pre-engineering and pre-construction site visits to identify problems, potential scope increases and budget issues.

To complete the relay project, portions of the substations are taken out of operation in small sections and power is rerouted to avoid loss of service to customers. Typically, a project of this scope takes six to 10 years. The Georgia Power relay upgrades are scheduled to be completed in just over three years. Because stimulus funds are being used for the project, the timeline is firm.

Solution

The Georgia Power substation relay project improvements involve replacing existing electromechanical relays with new microprocessor-based relays at all substations within the utility's network.

"The improved relays incorporate new technology enabling the utility to gather as much information as possible within central clearinghouses, providing more powerful data and enabling utilities to do more preventive maintenance, react more efficiently to outages and get power back on quicker," Famakinwa says.

Steven Campbell, Georgia Power's protection and control supervisor, says this project is about control and protection of the utility's assets, and enhancing the reliability and intelligence of the distribution system.

"This is where our intelligent distribution system comes into play," he says. "These microprocessor-based relays are going to help us gather information that our trouble centers can then use to improve outage restoration. We also gain benefits from enhanced protection features and higher reliability and lower maintenance cost of our control systems going forward."

Outcome

The upgraded facilities provide the first step in improvements to Southern Company's power grid that will pave the way for future upgrades to its overall power distribution system. As the distribution feeder project draws to a close, larger scale projects are getting started.

"We're beginning to see much larger substation modernization projects that involve replacing the old electromechanical and older generation electronic relays, upgrading old battery systems and putting in newer communication systems," says Oko Buckle, Burns & McDonnell's transmission and distribution manager in the Southeast.

Buckle says the overall result is the convergence of information technology and the power system. "This project allows the utility to communicate between devices, from one network to another," he says. "The utility companies need to make sure their equipment and network have the capability and capacity to make the technology possible."

With this new technology, the utility can detect some issues in advance, allowing them to address those issues more quickly, and ultimately provide greater security, reliability and efficiency.

The upgraded systems provide data about usage patterns, equipment condition and voltage levels that can help in planning maintenance intervals.
"The new technology provides preventive maintenance," Buckle says. "Georgia Power can pinpoint when and where the system could fail before it happens. This yields minimized downtime and improved reliability."

The upgraded systems also require less maintenance, resulting in cost savings.

The project puts Georgia Power in a position to move forward with its Smart Grid development. "This project is one piece of the puzzle in the overall Smart Grid equation," Famakinwa says.

For more information, contact Oko Buckle, 770-510-4503.

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