Large-scale Outages, Loss of Engineering Expertise Discussed in Paris


By Steven M. Brown, editor in chief

In late August, more than 2,000 attendees gathered for the 2006 Cigràƒ© Session at the Palais des Congràƒ¨s in Paris to discuss the myriad challenges facing high-voltage transmission grids. Although Cigràƒ© is an international conference with most of its attendees coming from countries other than the United States, the high-level challenges discussed in Paris closely mirrored the challenges discussed at most U.S.-specific conferences.

Paris, once again, provided a beautiful background for the biennial Cigràƒ© Session. More than 2,000 were in attendance.Click here to enlarge image

As an example, a standing room only crowd of more than 500 attendees filled an auditorium on Monday morning, Aug. 28, to learn how various international utilities are working to mitigate major disturbances on their grids. EPRI’s Clark Gellings moderated the panel discussion on the “Impact of Natural Phenomena on the Design and Operation of Power Systems” and began with a question: “Are consumers willing to pay for enhanced reliability?” He noted that the impact of outages on the U.S. economy alone averages $119 billion to $188 billion and said research indicates that a significant part of the commercial and industrial customer base is willing to pay a premium for better power quality and reliability.

Following Gellings introductions, Curt Lindqvist of Sweden’s E.ON Sverige came to the podium to discuss the devastating effects of Hurricane Gudrun in January 2005. Gudrun caused the most serious damage ever suffered by the Swedish electric power infrastructure. In all, 700,000 residents of Sweden were without power due to the storm. The hurricane restoration effort involved more than 4,500 people and cost E.ON 130 million Euro-30 million of which went to compensate customers who lost power. Lindqvist said his company learned several lessons from Hurricane Gudrun, one of which was that it is “good for a company to be generous” when it comes to compensating customers for lost power. Lindquist also said that even though it is not profitable to do so, utilities must consider taking systems underground, even going so far as to suggest this was a lesson U.S. utilities should heed. He also noted that regulation must give incentives to promote security of electric supply and reward those utility companies that focus on reliability.

Next to the podium was Hervàƒ© Lafaye of RTE, which operates the French high-voltage grid. Lafaye spoke about the heat wave of 2003 during which France experienced 12 days of heat 10 degrees (Celsius) above normal. A moderate increase in electricity consumption during that heat wave, coupled with a shortage of generating capacity, resulted in widespread outages. Lafaye said that as a result of these heat-related outages-as well as two hurricanes in December 1999-RTE learned the importance of having stronger early warning systems and better cooperation with weather forecast institutes. He said the outage events also underscored the importance of frequent training of system operators, who now undergo two days of real-time offline simulation exercises. “Be prepared” is the mantra RTE now lives by when it comes to dealing with devastating climate conditions.

Following Lafaye, Yves Filion, president of Hydro-Quàƒ©bec Transàƒâ€°nergie and current president of Cigràƒ©, told of the lessons his company learned during a huge ice storm in 1998. The ice storm left 1.4 million customers without power-some for up to a month-and damaged 3,100 transmission towers. Studies conducted after the storm indicated that Hydro Quebec needed to reinforce its grid, use simulators for operator training, employ better emergency planning and accelerate R&D programs. Hydro Quebec made large investments in de-icing technology and mechanical reinforcement of strategic lines, and the investments appear to have paid off. Another large storm hit in April 2005, and, because of new towers with a more weather-resistant design and early warning from icing rate meters, the utility and its customers suffered no interruption of service, according to Filion. Hydro Quebec’s continuing reliability work going forward through 2014 includes $375 million in reliability investments and 82 grid reinforcement projects.

Also discussed during Cigràƒ© was the issue of the aging workforce. In a panel session on “electric power engineering education,” about 60 gathered attendees mulled over the role utilities and groups like Cigràƒ© should play in attracting new engineering graduates to the power industry. Underscoring that the aging workforce problem is not one peculiar to the United States, Michael Dureau, chairman of the Australian Power Institute (API), noted that his country will be spending billions of dollars to replace aging equipment in the next few years but lacks sufficient engineering talent to do the work. Dureau said that Australia is seeing a shortfall of 270 engineers per year. His group, API, was developed with the goal of attracting new engineers to the power profession and keeping them in Australia. Another panelist, Luis Rouco from Spain’s Institute for Research in Technology, stressed the importance of utility companies working in collaboration with universities to train the next generation of power engineers. He noted that when Spain restructured its power industry in 1984, it was made compulsory for power companies to invest a certain percentage of their total revenue in research. Rouco said that this regulation has resulted in “fluid cooperation” between universities and industry in Spain.

Outside the conference rooms, roughly 90 exhibitors displayed their wares in an active Cigràƒ© exhibit hall. Several big announcements were made during Cigràƒ©, including:

Areva T&D made several announcements, most notably, the release of the company’s e-terravision software. Developed by Areva in conjunction with such customers as American Electric Power and Northeast Utilities, e-terravision functions in real-time to give operators a full visualization of their networks and assist them in taking corrective action when disturbances occur.

Areva T&D also showcased its “digital substation” offering. Based on the IEC 61850 8.1 and 9.2 protocols, non-conventional instrument transformers and advanced condition monitoring algorithms, the digital substation removes the traditional wirings between primary and secondary equipment, thereby optimizing lifecycle costs and enhancing ease of use.

Toward the back of the exhibit hall, 13 members of the UCA International Users Group banded together to showcase their IEC 61850-compliant offerings. ABB, Areva, GE, KEMA, omicron, RuggedCom, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Siemens, SISCO, Team Arteche, Toshiba, UTInnovation and ZIV all worked together to provide live demonstrations of interoperability across the process, bay and station levels.

The Siemens Power T&D booth was one of the most well-trafficked in a busy exhibit hall during the 2006 Cigràƒ© Session.Click here to enlarge image

Over in its own booth, ABB had an array of IEC 61850-compliant substation devices on display. ABB touts itself as the first company to offer a complete portfolio of 61850-compliant devices. Among the offerings ABB had on display was a ground-breaking communication technology called “E-panel.” Via E-panel, medium-voltage switchgear can communicate data via electromagnetic waves without the use of electrical or optical links. Data is transmitted at light speed and without interference or loss. ABB has launched the E-panel technology in its ZX family of medium-voltage gas-insulated switchgear.

ABB also had its HVDC Light technology on display. HVDC Light enables up to 1,000 MW of power to be delivered via underground or underwater cable at 300 kV.

Among a number of innovations on display in the Siemens Power T&D booth were a new compact switchgear and low-noise transformers.

Siemens’ 3AP1 DTC (dead tank compact) switchgear (rated for 145 kV) provides all the functions of an outdoor switchgear, consisting of circuit-breaker, disconnecting and earthing switches as well as current transformer, all in a modular design. In addition to this compact switchgear, Siemens unveiled a new 72.5-kV switchgear, expanding the company’s product portfolio of gas-insulated switchgear to include a compact and modular type as well.

Also much-discussed around the Siemens booth were the so-called “whisper transformers” the company has developed for a customer in New York, among others. They are made of four 420-MVA autotransformers (335/136/13.2 kV), which are normally operated at a noise level of around 77 dB(A). Using noise reduction measures, Siemens has managed to reduce the noise level of the transformers to 57 dB(A). This is a breakthrough that Siemens believes will become increasingly important in densely populated areas and in large cities.

AEP Chooses GE Energy for Texas Grid Reliability Project

American Electric Power (AEP) has selected GE Energy’s Variable Frequency Transformer (VFT) technology to maintain grid reliability in the Laredo, Texas, area along the U.S. border with Mexico. The VFT will establish an asynchronous transmission link between AEP’s Texas Central Company (TCC) and Mexico’s Comisiàƒ³n Federal de Electricidad (CFE).

Onsite assembly of GE Energy’s VFT stator at AEP’s Laredo site.Click here to enlarge image

GE Energy will design, manufacture and commission the 100-MW VFT, which will be installed at the Laredo Substation. The project is in support of the reliability must run exit strategy for the Laredo Power Station, endorsed by ERCOT, to maintain reliable transmission of power within south Texas to Laredo. The VFT is expected to be available for commercial operation in May 2007.

GE Energy’s VFT technology provides a controlled transmission path between the ERCOT and CFE electrical grids, permitting power exchanges that previously were impractical due to asynchronous boundaries. The VFT technology will be used to provide emergency support in addition to the transactional transfer of power. AEP believes the VFT will prove economical for ERCOT due to its capability for maintaining system security with lower energy imports from CFE than those required by other asynchronous technologies.

Although the VFT concept is relatively new, the VFT itself is composed of well-established technology. It consists of a rotary transformer that provides a continuously controllable phase shift for any angle, and a drive system and control that adjust the angle and speed of the rotary transformer to regulate power flow. The individual, 100-MW VFT channels can be combined in increments to meet a particular load situation.

The VFT at TCC’s Laredo Substation is the second VFT provided by GE Energy, the first being a development project with TransEnergie, Hydro Quàƒ©bec’s transmission division, at its Langlois Substation in Quàƒ©bec.

Did Demand Response Save the City?

On the heels of New York City’s triple-digit heat emergency this summer, one company says that a Con Edison report to the mayor provides confirmation that emergency demand response programs helped save the city from an expansion of the blackout that crippled western Queens for more than a week, while also affecting Westchester County and other parts of the Tri-State area.

ConsumerPowerline, itself a provider of demand response solutions, believes demand response could hold the key to averting blackouts in the future. The company is asking Governor Pataki to increase strategically placed emergency demand response participation. (Currently, large energy consumers agree to reduce their consumption in an emergency to help avert a power failure.) ConsumerPowerline says these programs led to a 3 percent reduction in critical energy use throughout the region-saving 411 megawatts and helping to stave off more widespread failures.

Citing a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recommending states implement demand response solutions, the firm wants state and local rules re-written so both large and smaller energy users, including single-family homes, restaurants and midsized apartment buildings, can be reliably called upon and economically targeted to the precise areas that are in danger of losing power during a heat emergency. The company says such changes could have spared Astoria its suffering in the dark, and would spare future Astorias from similar suffering.

Con Edison recently submitted a report to the mayor on the power outage, including the role of demand response, in helping to prevent a wider blackout to customers in Queens, N.Y.

“Our examination of the report and chronology of events, convinces us that a demand response program that included smaller energy users, and one that could be better targeted to the trouble spots, would have certainly helped to prevent the outages that left 25,000 Queens residents without power for more than a week,” said Mike Gordon, ConsumerPowerline’s president and founder. “In the first critical hours, when damage to Con Ed’s secondary system knocked out power to those customers, there were clear opportunities for localized demand response that would have made the critical difference.”

According to Gordon, “While the governor wisely encouraged all state agencies to intensify energy saving measures during the heat emergency, we not only need a louder call for demand response participation throughout the city and state, we need rules that will permit the “Ëœthe little guy’-small merchants and building owners, for example, to be a greater part of a targeted emergency demand response solution. If we had had 500 small-sized buildings in Astoria, for example, cutting back on electricity just a bit during the crisis, the data shows we would have provided the power to stave off the failures that left them and their neighbors in the stifling darkness, for days,” he said.

Gordon said the story of Electchester, a large apartment complex in Queens, shows energy consumers are willing to sacrifice during a critical power shortage. Third Housing Co. Inc. of Electchester is a demand response participant that cut back on air conditioning usage when the call to conserve went out during the recent crisis. The complex and its neighbors saved enough electricity to power 2,000 homes, while suffering no loss of power itself, despite the up to 10-day blackouts in nearby Astoria and other parts of Queens.

“It’s not easy to cut back, when we’d all like to get some relief from the heat,” said longtime Electchester resident Mike Arendt. “But after the blackout in 2003, we were determined to make a difference, and I think we did.”

“The homeowner, the small businessperson, the small building owner-these people could have made a difference in Astoria, and they will make a difference in the future, if we allow them, as energy consumers, to be part of the solution to our electricity woes during a heat emergency,” Gordon added.

BPL Global Announces $25 Million in Funding

BPL Global, an international leader in “smart grid” technologies and broadband services over power lines (BPL), recently announced that it has received $25 million in equity investments. New investors in this round include Kuwaiti-based IFA Consortium and Pittsburgh-based Tollgrade Communications. Strong support from current investors Al-Deera, DQE Communications, PA Early Stage, SZAR Partners and BPL Global founders continues with participation in Series C.

BPL Global forms joint ventures with utilities and Internet service providers (ISPs), providing high speed Internet services over power lines to consumers, while ensuring heightened reliability and efficiency of utility grids through smart grid initiatives. Smart grid applications include load management, outage management, and grid monitoring and device control-as well as energy theft prevention.

“We continue to invest in BPL Global because of their fundamentally sound business plan and the talented team they have assembled to execute this plan, creating value for our investment,” said Joseph Belechak, COO, Duquesne Light Holdings. “As demand for energy grows and the customer’s service and reliability expectations increase, being able to develop and deploy Smart Grid technology to improve the operation of the electric delivery infrastructure is increasingly more important. Bringing these advancements to the market may also create a competitive advantage for the utilities and their partners developing these new technologies.”

BPL Global provides end-to-end solutions designed to meet the specific needs of a utility by integrating equipment from leading suppliers with an enterprise software platform. This creates a communications network over a utility’s power lines that interfaces with smart meters, switches, sensors and other grid devices to more efficiently manage transmission and distribution of electricity. This same communications infrastructure provides data, voice and video broadband services to residences, apartment buildings and businesses.

Piedmont Selects Hunt

Piedmont EMC, an electric cooperative based in Hillsborough, N.C., has selected Hunt Technologies to provide a two-way advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system for its entire service territory.

Piedmont plans to fully deploy Hunt’s TS2 AMI system to 30,000 meters over the next three years. The utility’s service territory covers parts of six counties and includes a mix of rural, suburban and urban areas. TS2 utilizes a power line carrier-based technology to maintain continuous two-way communication with each meter. In addition to reporting daily power usage, TS2 provides advanced functionality, such as remote programmable time-based rate structures, outage detection, load control and remote service disconnect.

“We like the way the system integrates into our existing operation,” said Jared Goodnite, system engineer at Piedmont. “The technology is continuously communicating with each meter; so outage detection doesn’t require someone polling the system, and the system interfaces with our outage management software.”

Piedmont plans to retrofit the majority of its existing meter stock with TS2 modules. The utility also opted to use Hunt’s Managed Services Package for data hosting. This will allow the utility to access meter data anytime, anywhere there is an Internet connection, without having to manage software upgrades, licensing or servers.


  • The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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