Less than a year after PPL Electric Utilities completed its smart grid pilot project in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., area, customers in counties around Pennsylvania’s capital city are already experiencing fewer power interruptions and shorter average-outage durations.

By measuring the performance of the circuits in the pilot area for 12 months ending in September 2013 and comparing it to the same circuits before the smart grid program, PPL Electric has seen a 58% drop in the average number of interruptions customers experience in a year and a 55% drop in the average number of minutes customers are without service overall.

To be fair, the weather in the period 12 months prior to the smart grid implementation was generally worse than in the 12-month period through September 2013. So, it is expected that the long-term improvement may be somewhat less than the current rate as the effects of weather normalize over time. Still, PPL Electric’s expected improvement in reliability over the next five years is projected to be 25% through the deployment of distribution automation. This improvement projection is based on reviewing three-phase distribution circuits only with major events excluded (for example, hurricanes and ice storms).

The lineman is covering up the energized line in preparation for the installation of a new smart switch, which is pre-wired and can be seen just below the bucket.

Overall Project Scope

The three-year US$38 million project, supported by an American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) federal stimulus grant, involved the installation of close to 300 automated devices along 50 local distribution circuits serving about 63,000 customers. It also included upgrades to 10 area electric substations across 150 sq miles (388 sq km) and the development of a dedicated, secure communications system. The reliability improvement was noted on the performance of the newly automated circuits compared with nonautomated circuits in the region.

Reliability improvement resulting from smart grid implementation.

PPL Electric is encouraged by the early success of the smart grid in the Harrisburg area. Future plans include targeting vulnerable areas of the distribution system and reduce the number of interruptions that customers experience. As a result, PPL Electric is implementing a stronger, more modern distribution system to better serve its customers for years to come.

Planned Smart Grid Deployment