Monitoring Lets Utilities Keep Eagle Eye on Power

Forward-looking electric utilities, like Bay City Electric Light and Power and Alpena Power Co. in Michigan, are responding to market change by investing in technologies that allow them to monitor and control their processes with greater precision, speed and economy. Both the aforementioned Michigan utilities are incorporating monitoring systems from Power Measurement, Ltd. in ongoing initiatives.

“You have to keep pace in an informational world,” said Kim Coonan, Bay City’s metering and substation supervisor. “And with deregulation on the horizon, the more information you can access, the better your competitive position.”

Alpena Power: Improving Flow Control

Alpena Power Co., an investor-owned transmission and distribution utility, serves the area around Alpena, Mich. Until recently, according to Edmund Ludwiczak, line department administrator, all monitoring at Alpena was done manually. “We had to physically go out to our 22 substations and take readings on meters, then record those readings in hard copy,” he said.


Part of Alpena Power Co.’s power monitoring upgrade includes panel-mounted 7700 ION power meters installed in the switchgear.
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Subsequently, someone had to consolidate those documents to get a rough idea of where power was going and what condition the power was in. To avoid such an inefficient process, Alpena decided to apply new metering technology that would allow for remote, real-time access to power data.

“Being relatively small, we decided to take a cautious approach and ‘dipped our toe in the pool’ with Power Measurement,” Ludwiczak said. “We wanted to see what their offering delivered, and so we began by testing it on our interconnect substation.”

This beta test monitored five major circuits, and results have been so positive that Alpena has now begun a five-year initiative whereby power metering will be installed in all of its substations. The system will incorporate PEGASYS software with 7330 ION, 7700 ION and 8500 ION meters. The company currently has two of its 22 substations complete and two others partially complete with power monitoring.

“We had been considering remote monitoring for a long time, but the barrier to entry was cost,” he said. “What influenced our decision was the fact that this particular system was affordable for a small utility like us. With older remote monitoring systems, you could literally spend millions-and some utilities have. We found the technological approach we wanted at a fraction of the cost.”

As Ludwiczak sees it, reduced costs and downtime through better system design are the core benefits of power monitoring.

“We’ve already been able to flag problems we didn’t even know existed before,” he said.

As examples, he cited harmonics problems and problems associated with voltage fluctuation, both of which Alpena can now measure accurately-and resolve more effectively.

Bay City Electric Light & Power: Achieving Greater Control

A municipal utility, Bay City Electric Light and Power is in the process of upgrading its data management from an old telemetry system to a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system using 3710 ACM meters and PEGASYS software. The utility is using the system for switching, load monitoring and to obtain better, more detailed historical references.

Bay City will be adding 8500 ION and 7330 ION meters at the company’s six points of generation. The company is tying all of these to PEGASYS software through radio frequency communication links, mostly at 800 MHz to 900 MHz, with one at 2.4 GHz.

“Being able to monitor everything remotely from a single point is a great advantage,” Coonan said. “Before, we had to go out physically to the sites, which was labor- and time-intensive. Once the system is complete, the process will be simpler, faster and much more efficient.”

Additionally, he said, the system is an ideal tool for outage management. In the past, Bay City relied on customer call-ins to narrow down the source of outages. With PEGASYS, access to better information dramatically speeds up diagnostics-keeping customers better satisfied. Beyond outages, Bay City has found the system excellent for operations troubleshooting. According to Coonan, soon after the company deployed the first system elements, they found and resolved issues that could have developed into major problems.

“We’re just scratching the surface of what we can do,” he said. “It’s a tremendous tool for system analysis and troubleshooting.”

Bay City is using dial-up communications at the outset, and adding radio frequency as the system moves toward completion. The 3710 ACM meters are located in substations on circuit reclosers with the 8500 ION meters still to be installed. System data is monitored through PEGASYS. The company currently monitors kW, demand, amperage, voltage, phase-to-phase, phase-to-ground and power factor to analyze and balance circuit performance.

The use of advanced metering systems is both a strategic and tactical tool for companies in the new electric utility environment, and it’s one that is being implemented on a broad scale and with increasing speed by all kinds of electric providers. The initiatives under way at Alpena and Bay City-two small but progressive Michigan utilities-underscore this growing trend.

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