Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), Newark, New Jersey, U.S., last week announced that it plans to spend about US$1.4 billion in the next five years to upgrade and enhance an electric system that already is among the most reliable in the nation. The utility, which is celebrating 100 years of service in 2003, will focus on investing in state-of-the-art technology designed to equip its transmission and distribution infrastructure for the 21st century.

"When PSE&G was founded in 1903, the company relied on horse-drawn wagons and mechanical equipment to bring an essentially new product -- electricity -- to New Jersey's homes and businesses," said Ralph Izzo, senior vice president- utility operations. "Today, we're investing in state-of-the-art electronics and microprocessor-based smart systems to ensure that our electric system is ready to meet customer needs and expectations for the next 100 years."

Izzo said the $1.4 billion of investment is consistent with PSE&G's five-year capital expenditure program that was disclosed in Public Service Enterprise Group's 2002 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 2003, PSE&G is nearing completion of 70 major capital improvement projects, as well as numerous system upgrades, to ensure safe, highly reliable service to its 2 million electric customers. More than $280 million will be invested in upgrading the electric infrastructure including:

  • $58 million in system reinforcements that include new substations and circuit reinforcements
  • $75 million in system replacements to renew and replace facilities and equipment
"As the demand for energy continues to rise in New Jersey, so too does the expectation of even more highly reliable service," Izzo said. "To handle this growing demand, we've employed state-of-the-art computerized monitoring systems that will track real-time changes in our system -- and help us solve problems before they occur. System intelligence is also helping us do a better job dispatching and tracking our work."

Equipment failures, such as a major substation transformer failure, can cost a utility millions of dollars to repair or replace the unit. In 2003, the company completed development and installation of a $5 million system that uses data collected from multiple sources, including remote monitoring equipment and manual inspections, to flag equipment that needs attention.

"One of the greatest benefits is the ability to view the status of the system from a desktop computer anywhere in the state. Major equipment failures are averted and equipment requiring minimal attention is not over-maintained," Izzo said.

Advanced technology also combines wireless and interactive systems that enable the company to immediately respond to electric system outages.

PSE&G invested $26.5 million in an integrated outage management and geographic information system designed to model the utility's electric system, identify outages, dispatch work crews and restore service to customers in record time.

"We now have the systems we need to dispatch work crews more effectively after just a few customer calls. Perhaps just as important, the systems allow us to provide customers with more precise information about the status of the repairs," said Izzo. "It's already paying dividends. Our restoration times are 10 percent better than historic values."

One of the largest technology investments the company has made, however, has been in the design and development of a work management system that uses desktop and mobile data terminals to dispatch and track work. More than $35 million has been expended on this sophisticated system that integrates several technologies into a seamless process.

Elsewhere in the electric system, new imaging technology is being used to locate weak spots on PSE&G's 1200 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. Traveling in helicopters, workers conduct site inspections using infrared cameras that detect damage caused by sun spots or lightning. Once the damage is detected, repairs are generally made by using live-line maintenance -- a process pioneered by PSE&G. Line workers are able to make repairs to high-voltage transmission lines without taking the circuit out of service, providing increased reliability.

In the near future, PSE&G will unveil new technology designed to further improve the electric system. In conjunction with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the company developed the first-of-its-kind prototype of three fiber optic-based microsensors that could be used to detect changes in large station transformers. The microsensor, approximately 2 millimeters square, is mounted on the tip of a 7-inch gun-like probe that is installed inside the transformer through an existing valve. The microsensor will continuously monitor the transformer's vital signs and transmit warnings of potential problems.

"The investments we're making in technology today will enable us to continue to serve our customers at the highest levels of safety and reliability for the next 100 years and beyond," said Izzo. "And, of course, all of these investments are made with the goal of keeping rates as low as possible."