Projects of the Year Award Winners at DistribuTECH

By Kathleen Davis, Senior Editor

The Utility Automation & Engineering T&D magazine editors announced four winners of the magazine’s annual Projects of the Year Awards and presented each with an award Feb. 3 during the DistribuTECH conference keynote in San Deigo.

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Winners were selected in four categories: Best Transmission and Distribution (T&D) Automation Project, Best Non-automated T&D Engineering Project, Best Geographic Information System (GIS) Project and Best Automated Meter Reading/Advance Metering Infrastructure (AMR/AMI) project.

Best T&D Automation Project

The winner of the T&D Automation Project of the Year Award is Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) for the company’s real-time fault indication project.

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“Despite a utility’s best efforts to provide reliable electric service, sooner or later there will be an outage. When that happens, the outage duration clock starts ticking. In most cases, you can’t restore service until you can identify where the problem is. This is where the troubleshooting process begins,” said Thomas Callsen, consulting engineer, distribution standards, ComEd.

More than 50 years ago utilities learned the value of fault circuit indicators (FCI) to aid in time-consuming outage location. In late 2006, ComEd decided to look into state-of-the-art improvements for the process.

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Utility employees believed that overhead fault indicators with communications capabilities would result in a smarter grid and improved metrics through remote reporting by each fault-indicating device. Sponsored by the GridApp Consortium, ComEd, Landis+Gyr, DC Systems and SEL began work on the fault-indicator solution. ComEd engineers spent January and February 2008 introducing the fault indicator to the trouble crews and training them on the device’s installation and operation. Installation of the actual fault indicators began in March 2008.

An intranet Web page went live in April 2008, allowing the ComEd operations group to see for the first time real-time data for their fault indicators. Mobile data terminals and corporate local area network (LAN) capabilities meant that line crews and dispatchers could access data from their offices, homes and trucks. In November 2008, ComEd installed a set of the new fault indicators on a particularly troublesome 69 kV circuit in the Chicago suburbs. When the fault indicators sense an inrush of fault current and trip, they immediately communicate back to the radio head-end via the mesh network. ComEd dispatchers and even the trouble crew can view the fault information from individual terminals.

According to Callsen, the biggest hurdle with the winning ComEd project was integrating the FCIs into the field information gateway (FIG) system. This existing substation control and data acquistion (SCADA) subsystem requires five-minute polling of all data acquisition (DA) devices. At that rate, the FCI battery would be dead in less than a year. Also, the increased radio traffic of a full deployment could cause issues with the wireless network. Working with DC Systems, ComEd installed the company’s RTscada product to act as an interface and process all the FCI data.

“This FCI is one of the first real-world smart grid products deployed in the industry,” Callsen said.

Besides responding to faults, the indicators also provide average hourly loads, ambient temperatures and historical outage-related information that can be stored in historian files for future analysis. Fast and easy to install and a good foundation for smart grid technologies, this project is one that other utilities will be able to replicate and tailor the specific technologies to their own distribution systems.

Best Non-automated T&D Engineering Project

The winner of the Non-automated T&D Engineering Project of the Year Award is Northeast Utilities (NU) for the Middletown-Norwalk Transmission Project.

Northeast Utilities
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The Middletown-Norwalk Transmission Project is one of the largest electric infrastructure upgrades in the United States and a milestone by NU to solve chronic congestion in southwestern Connecticut.

Estimated to cost more than $1 billion, the project consists of 69 miles of 345-kV, high-voltage transmission lines through 18 Connecticut cities and towns. Construction included 45 miles of overhead lines and 24 miles of underground lines, along with 57 miles of reconstructed 115-kV lines to facilitate installation of 345-kV lines on existing rights-of-way.

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The new 345-kV overhead lines begin at an existing switching station in Middletown and travel along an existing right-of-way to a new switching station in Wallingford before continuing to a new substation in Milford. Most of the older wooden H-frames and steel lattice structures were replaced with steel monopoles ranging in height from 80 to 190 feet. In areas identified by the Connecticut Siting Council, NU used a split-phase design to reduce magnetic field levels. These will be the first use in the United States of 345-kV split-phase structures to reduce magnetic fields, according to the utility.

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The underground route begins in Milford and crosses the Housatonic River and follows Route 1, ending in Norwalk. The underground transmission lines use cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) insulated cable to maximize the amount of underground cable that could be installed on the project. NU used horizontal directional drilling technology to install underground cables to cross the Saugatuck River in Westport, the Housatonic River in Milford and Ash Creek on the Bridgeport-Fairfield line. This allowed the cables to be buried without trenching in the water.

Northeast Utilities
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The Middletown-Norwalk project completes a loop connecting the southwest part of the state to the nearly 400 miles of 345-kV transmission lines that already run through the rest of Connecticut. Providing this access relieves congestion, strengthens reliability and provides Connecticut power consumers additional savings in federal congestion costs.

Best GIS Project

The winner of the GIS Project of the Year Award is this year’s DistribuTECH host utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), for the Virtual Integrated Situational Awareness (VISA) project.

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This year, SDG&E initiated a project that combined data from wildfires, lightning strikes, earthquakes, wind forecasts and SCADA data to provide a real-time situational awareness dashboard for visualization in the control room and boardroom alike.

The idea came after SDG&E experienced the San Diego wildfires in October 2007. During those devastating wildfires, SDG&E activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in which all key representatives from the company come together to monitor events, communicate and make decisions. Getting current, real-time information in the right form and context, however, was virtually impossible. In many instances, the EOC had to cobble together information gathered by a variety of sources—phone, fax and e-mail.

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Today, with the new geospatial visualization, EOC representatives and executives can view the system conditions on demand, eliminating the extra step of asking for updates. The implementation went live with fully integrated visualization in September 2008. By October 2008, SDG&E had hundreds of users across the company, including the vice president of T&D, viewing the project daily from their desktops and revolutionizing how outage and restoration information is distributed.

SDG&E already has seen the benefits of VISA in its ability to monitor system and weather conditions, according to Daniel Zaragoza, director of electric distribution operations. Having access to that information while being able to view specific utility infrastructure and data has improved operational efficiency and effectiveness. VISA showed its value during the 2008 fire season when SDG&E launched proactive fire-preparedness efforts. Using the application, the utility could view and track multiple wind monitors and their associated data, receive alerts when wind speed thresholds were exceeded and have this information easily compiled on the dashboard.

“We believe the project will improve our overall ability to respond to, or even avert, potential system emergencies in the future and help us achieve our mission of providing safe and reliable energy to our customers,” Zaragoza said.

Best AMR/AMI Project

The winner of the AMR/AMI Project of the Year Award is the City of San Marcos, Texas, for the municipality’s citywide AMI update.

Standing L-R: Ernest Cavazos, Rafaela Cruz, Terry Garcia, Kyle Dicke, Tom Taggart, Angelia Riley, Richard Stankiewicz Kneeling L-R: Ramona Brown, Isaac Badu, Ron Diaz
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The City of San Marcos, a community-owned water, wastewater and electric system with 19,500 electric customers, is implementing an AMI project of 30,000 commercial, industrial and residential meters. The AMI solution leverages the capabilities of a smart mesh technology and will enable smart meter communications directly to and from the city’s utility office.

Demand response (DR) capabilities will also be implemented, allowing city residents to track their electric use on the Web at any time. With the EkaNet-enabled meters, the city has been able to detect service outages and other energy-related problems more quickly, resulting in faster service-response times and proving that entities other than big, investor-owned utilities can be smart technology pioneers.

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“Working with the officials and staff at San Marcos, we resolved numerous unplanned technical and operational challenges quickly and successfully,” said Prakash Chakravarthi, chairman and CEO of Eka Systems Inc., a vendor-partner for the project.

Project deployment began in July 2008. The pilot program allowed the city to test the system and train all appropriate personnel. The city plans to rapidly deploy the system within all utility service areas in the first half of 2009, racing to become the first fully integrated “smart city” in Texas, if not the country.

The city’s AMI rollout is designed to:

  • Strengthen relations with residents and constantly improve service delivery speed and quality;
  • Use the AMI interval data to enhance call center operations to resolve billing inquiries faster, and provide direct access to usage and rate analysis tools through Internet-based portals;
  • Apply information and technology to improve utility operations and introduce newer service offerings such as online tools to enable energy analytics;
  • Reduce manual operations to control and stabilize rising utility rates;
  • Help residents manage electricity and water costs while encouraging energy conservation; and
  • Lay the infrastructure for bidirectional communications interface to home area networking (HAN) for DR and demand-side management (DSM) programs.

“The City of San Marcos is honored to win this award for our venture into smart metering,” San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said. “The AMI project reflects the city council’s policy commitment to streamline government, make services more accessible and encourage conservation. Advanced metering will give our citizens ready access to information about their water and electric use and the ability to better manage their consumption.”

The Utility Automation and Engineering T&D magazine Projects of the Year Awards are distributed annually at the DistribuTECH conference. A call for entries opens each fall. Keep an eye on the magazine’s pages for details on upcoming awards.

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