PPL Electric Utilities is proposing a $38 million project that would pilot the use of "smart" technology to strengthen reliability, save energy and improve electric service for 60,000 customers in the Harrisburg area.
The project, which has been proposed to the U.S. Department of Energy, would enable PPL Electric Utilities to move power more efficiently, react instantaneously to changes on the delivery system and automatically reroute power around problems that occur.
"Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since the electric delivery system was installed," said David G. DeCampli, president of PPL Electric Utilities. "This project would help introduce Thomas Edison to the 21st century."
He said the project supports the nation's push for a better, smarter electric grid by deploying the latest in advanced grid devices, computer systems, software and high-speed communications. The U.S. Department of Energy has pledged about $3.3 billion to spur smart grid development. The company is seeking $19 million in federal funding for the project.
PPL Electric Utilities would partner with Drexel University and technology leaders GE Energy, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Alcatel-Lucent if the project is approved for funding.
The improvements would be concentrated in 150 square miles of the company's delivery system. Hundreds of new electrical devices would be installed. A new centralized computer system linked to these devices would track and respond to changes on the delivery system as they happen.
The new technology would allow the company to operate its power lines at optimal voltages, meaning customer appliances would use less electricity to do the same functions. This could save customers in the project area about $1.5 million a year on their electricity bills, DeCampli estimated.
The new system would also quickly detect and isolate problems that cause outages. For example, if a tree were to damage a section of line, the system would automatically route power around the problem until repairs could be made. This would quickly limit the area affected and get the lights back on for as many customers as possible. The system would also help direct repair crews to the source of trouble.
"In most cases today, we have to send someone to the scene to operate equipment and reroute power until a fix is made," DeCampli said. "The new system would be smart enough to do this on its own, saving valuable time and allowing crews to focus on repairs sooner."
He said the company has already seen what advanced technology can do in other areas, such as metering.
"We're a national leader when it comes to advanced metering. We're able to provide our customers detailed usage information like few utilities can. We're combining that information with Web tools that help customers use energy wisely," he said.
In addition, the company is using advanced meters to keep costs down for customers, respond more quickly to power outages, better plan upgrades to the delivery system, enable new rate options and detect electricity theft.
"Technology opens the door to new possibilities," DeCampli said. "And just as technology has transformed other areas of our lives, from the phones we use to the movies we watch, it has the potential to reshape the way we think about, use and deliver electricity."