Smart grid of tomorrow on drawing boards today

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4 September 2009 –

Morgantown, W.Va. – The lines that carry power to homes are destined to get smarter and more efficient say researchers from Allegheny Power and WVU. Recently, the West Virginia University Advanced Power and Electricity Research Center (APERC) hosted Harley Mayfield, Allegheny Power Distribution Engineer for West Virginia, who presented a briefing about the utility’s $2 million Morgantown Developmental Field Test (DFT) project.

Harley Mayfield (L), Distribution Engineer with Allegheny Power, describes the control mechanisms in a utility pole box to WVU researchers. The box is part of the monitoring and control system for Allegheny Power's Morgantown DFT project. Mayfield is an alumnus of the WVU Department of Electrical Engineering Class of 1978.

Harley Mayfield (L), Distribution Engineer with Allegheny Power, describes the control mechanisms in a utility pole box to WVU researchers. The box is part of the monitoring and control system for Allegheny Power’s Morgantown DFT project. Mayfield is an alumnus of the WVU Department of Electrical Engineering Class of 1978.

Under the project, Allegheny Power is leading a team of industry researchers who are installing communication and control systems designed to maximize use of the existing power distribution facilities while also minimizing the number of customers affected by power outages. A demonstration field test is currently underway that involves two circuits from the West Run Substation that provides electricity to neighborhoods around Pineview Drive, Chestnut Ridge Road, parts of Stewartstown Road, Willowdale Road, Stewart Street, and a small part of University Avenue.

The work is being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory, Allegheny Power, and other partners. “Outages can be caused by any number of things, from a car hitting a utility pole to wind blowing down power lines. In the area we’re studying, we once had power knocked out by a tree limb blown by the wind from a tree 75 feet away from the line,” said Mayfield.

The company is installing remotely-controlled automated switches on utility poles that can sense the load, or amount of electricity coursing through the wires, and determine whether the line can accept more power or if the circuit needs to be rerouted because of a fault, such as a downed power line. The logic system will remotely and automatically activate switches that will reconfigure the local distribution system so that more customers can keep their lights on.

“The way local traffic is rerouted to alternate roads near a washed out road, we’ll be able to do the same thing with electricity by automatically rerouting power around the area of the fault with the advantage of not overloading those pathways,” said Mayfield.

Ali Feliachi, director of WVU's Advanced Power and Electricity Research Center (APERC) and Electric Power Systems Professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, hold a smart deviice that is being developed to test Smart Grid concepts in the Power Systems Laboratory.

Ali Feliachi, director of WVU’s Advanced Power and Electricity Research Center (APERC) and Electric Power Systems Professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, hold a smart deviice that is being developed to test Smart Grid concepts in the Power Systems Laboratory.

“Once the problem is fixed, we’ll be able to reset the system to normal operation, the way barriers and signs are removed once the road is repaired. But we’ll be able to do all this with just a few computer keystrokes remotely from our operation station in Greensburg, Pa.,” explained Mayfield.

The project is part of a broader Smart Grid initiative. One of the key goals of Smart Grid is to allow the electricity delivery system to monitor itself and automatically detect, analyze, respond to, and restore grid components or network sections to maintain reliability, security, affordability, and power quality.

Allegheny will be working with APERC on a new Smart Grid initiative for the West Virginia Super Circuit. “The objective of the newest project will be to use advanced protection and control schemes along with customers’ own storage and generation devices to automate the so-called West Virginia Super Circuit. The scheme would take full advantage of any batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, or diesel generators that customers may own and are willing to share with the larger community,” said APERC Director Ali Feliachi.

Such an approach is designed to improve system reliability and reduce the number and length of time of power outages. APERC will be demonstrating the concept in its laboratory.

“The opportunity to work with the APERC team has been a real bonus to the thought processes we have used in designing and integrating the various parts of these Smart Grid initiatives,” said Mayfield.

“Combining the APERC academic approach with the strictly business model I am used to employing has opened my mind to several options I would probably not have considered on my own. It has been a treat to return to the place I received my engineering education from and see the advances made in the program,” he said.

Mohammed Choudry, WVU Professor of Electrical Engineering and member of the APERC research team, studies the panel holding the Modern Grid computer control system at an Allegheny Power substation near Morgantown.

Mohammed Choudry, WVU Professor of Electrical Engineering and member of the APERC research team, studies the panel holding the Modern Grid computer control system at an Allegheny Power substation near Morgantown.

“Working with Allegheny Power will allow us to test our lab and research results on a real-world system and provide our students with a unique hands-on experience,” said Ali Feliachi, APERC director. “Our team is really excited about collaborating and we are looking forward to a productive and long partnership with Allegheny Power.”

The WVU APERC program is a spinoff of the U.S. Department of Energy Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, a program coordinated by the WVU National Research Center for Coal and Energy. “APERC is one of the success stories of the DOE EPSCoR program,” said Trina Karolchik Wafle, deputy director of the NRCCE.

Posted September, 4, 2009