BC Hydro's Path to a Modern Grid

Oct. 1, 2011
Renewal of the electric grid is critical to meeting British Columbia's energy needs for the next 50 years.

Thanks to visionary planning and investment, BC Hydro has been meeting British Columbia's energy needs reliably for the last 50 years. Yet, vitally important elements of the electric system infrastructure are reaching an age where significant investment is required to keep them operating and to keep the system reliable. British Columbia's electric system must be upgraded to ensure BC Hydro can continue to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective power to its customers.

The latest forecasts show demand for electricity in British Columbia growing by as much as 40% over the next 20 years. Technology continues to advance, and British Columbians are using increasing amounts of electricity, but the electric system that supports these technologies has not kept pace. For example, the electric meters in place have not fundamentally changed in more than 60 years.

BC Hydro is one of many utilities across the globe embarking on a plan to improve and modernize its grid. Integrated with advanced functions, a modern grid enhances system service reliability and operation efficiency, and provides customers with the information they need to make informed choices about how and when they use electricity. It also accommodates customer-generated electricity and emerging technologies, such as electric vehicles.

Smart Metering Program

BC Hydro's Smart Metering Program is a key initiative included in the British Columbia provincial government's Clean Energy Act, legislation which lays out a broad vision for clean energy and conservation throughout British Columbia. The Clean Energy Act requires BC Hydro to do the following:

  • Meet 66% of its future incremental electric demand from conservation and efficiency improvements by 2020

  • Generate at least 93% of electricity in British Columbia from clean or renewable resources, and build the infrastructure necessary to transmit that electricity

  • Proceed with a smart metering program that will allow customers to better manage their use of electricity.

The Smart Metering Program involves replacing 1.8 million existing meters with a comprehensive smart metering system. This meter exchange marks the first fundamental step in the modernization of BC Hydro's electric system. Equipped with two-way communication, smart meters can capture and record the demand and time when power is consumed. Smart meter installation began in July 2011 and is scheduled for completion in December 2012.

Unique Program Components

The Smart Metering Program is about improving and modernizing British Columbia's electric grid for the benefit of BC Hydro's customers. BC Hydro will be offering its customers conservation tools to manage their electricity and save money. To monitor their consumption, customers will be able to use an in-home display, a secure online account or both. These tools will show customers how much energy they are using, when they are using it and at what cost in near real time. The secure online account will allow customers to view their historical consumption patterns and trends over time, offering ways of reducing consumption that best suit their lifestyle and needs.

In British Columbia, as in other jurisdictions, legitimate customers bear the cost of electricity theft. BC Hydro estimates that approximately 850 GWh is stolen per year. This is the equivalent of CDN$100 million, or enough electricity to power 77,000 homes in British Columbia.

In addition to financial implications, preventing electricity theft is an important public safety issue. Electricity is being stolen in increasingly dangerous ways, posing major safety risks to the general public, first responders and employees through the threat of violence, fire and electrocution.

As part of the Smart Metering Program, BC Hydro is implementing an integrated theft-detection solution that includes distribution system inventory metering, business and topology analytics, and enhanced field investigation methods to quickly and accurately identify a location where there is evidence of theft.

These distribution system meters, combined with further distribution automation (DA) implementation, will enable systemwide sensing and visibility. Sensing and visibility will provide significant business value by supporting system operations, planning and asset management. Through the Smart Metering Program, BC Hydro will also deploy advanced telecom infrastructure, enabling future systemwide DA and other advanced applications.

Program Benefits

BC Hydro's Smart Metering Program has a capital budget of $930 million (nominal) and will deliver 1.6 billion in benefits over 20 years. Hydro will begin to realize operational efficiencies from automated meter reading and some initial energy savings as soon as smart meter deployments begin. The Smart Metering Program will provide the following benefits:

  • Improve safety and reliability
  • Enhance customer service
  • Reduce electricity theft
  • Improve operational efficiency; reduce wasted electricity
  • Support greater customer choice and control
  • Help modernize British Columbia's electric system.

Advanced Utility Applications

While it will establish the foundational elements, the Smart Metering Program alone will not modernize the grid. The program directly supports BC Hydro's other ongoing and planned smart grid utility applications and capital infrastructure investments, which will collectively support advanced customer applications and the evolution toward a modern grid.

These applications and initiatives include the distribution management system, the Downtown Vancouver Supply Redevelopment, volt/VAR optimization (VVO), smart neighborhoods, microgrids, distributed generation, electric vehicles and energy storage.

These applications and initiatives will contribute to grid modernization in a variety of ways. For example, BC Hydro has been pioneering VVO technology since the early 1990s. VVO will help the utility reach its conservation targets by optimizing the efficiency of energy delivery on distribution systems using real-time information to minimize power loss.

Distribution automation is the most efficient way to improve system reliability and asset utilization. Having deployed various DA schemes in the past, BC Hydro is now aiming to have extensive DA implementation in the system.

An integrated distribution management system was selected in 2010. This decision-support system, expected to be in service by 2012, will assist the control room and field operating personnel with monitoring and controlling the electric distribution system. Guidelines have been set to develop a reconfigurable distribution network and enable supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) functions on substation and field devices. The Vancouver Downtown Supply Redevelopment is one of BC Hydro's capital projects committed to converting all downtown underground feeders into SCADA-enabled open-loop systems, which will enable fast service restoration when disturbances occur.

Distributed generation (DG) is another example of an ongoing initiative that will contribute to a modern grid. DG is not a new concept for BC Hydro or its customers; several DG-related programs and projects are already in place.

Early in 1995, BC Hydro implemented its first intentional islanding of an independent power producer in its distribution system. The independent power producer is an 8.6-MVA run-of-river hydro electric generation plant. It automatically switches to islanding operation mode to serve the local loads when there is an outage on the transmission side. And when the transmission is restored, it automatically synchronizes back to the grid. The first implementation of its kind in North America, this project has deferred capital investment and has significantly improved customer reliability.

In recent years, there has been increased interest in DG as an electric supply option that could help create a sustainable energy future. DG allows customers to generate power on a smaller scale to provide an alternative to or as an enhancement of the traditional electrical power system. It can take the form of solar panels, wind power and biomass, for example. Once BC Hydro's smart metering system is in place, it is expected DG will be much easier to integrate with the grid, along with community-based microgrids.

In addition to the distribution system advancements, BC Hydro is actively leveraging technological advancements to improve the reliability and efficiency of its transmission system. Phasor measurement unit application for wide area control and security assessment, dynamic line ratings by distributed temperature-sensing technology and line sensors, and inspection and repairs by advanced robot technology are just some examples of advanced transmission applications.

Path Forward

Renewing and reinvesting in BC Hydro's electric grid is as important as renewing and reinvesting in the dams and transmission lines. That is why utilities around the world are upgrading their electric systems to adopt technology advancements and enhance customer service, improve safety and reliability, and make their operations more efficient. It is estimated that 1 billion smart meters will be installed around the world by 2020.

BC Hydro is embarking on a journey of innovation and technology to modernize its power delivery system. As the fundamental step in this process, the Smart Metering Program will provide British Columbians with a new way of thinking about electricity. Combined with other advanced smart grid utility applications, these implementations will provide BC Hydro with the functionality and flexibility required to manage increasing energy demands and ensure a clean energy future.

Wenpeng Luan ([email protected]) received a BSEE degree from Tsinghua University, a MSEE degree from Tianjin University and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Strathclyde University. He has extensive experience in power system security assessment, system planning, smart grid applications and computer network security. He is currently an engineering team lead for BC Hydro's Smart Metering Program. His special fields of interest include smart metering, smart grid solutions, asset management, control system cyber security and utility advanced applications. He is a professional engineer in British Columbia, Canada.

Wayne Cross ([email protected]) received a BSEE degree from the University of Calgary and has more than 35 years of experience in the electrical utility, natural gas and manufacturing industries. Cross is currently a senior manager responsible for the metering system solution on BC Hydro's Smart Metering Program. His special fields of interest include smart metering, smart grid solutions, asset management, control systems and industrial power systems. He is a professional engineer in British Columbia, Canada.

BC Hydro

BC Hydro is a Crown Corp. owned by the province of British Columbia, Canada. BC Hydro is one of North America's leading providers of clean, renewable energy and the largest electric utility in British Columbia, serving approximately 95% of the province's population, approximately 1.8 million customers. BC Hydro is responsible for reliably generating between 42,000 GWh and 52,000 GWh annually. Electricity is delivered to customers through a network of 18,000 km (11,185 miles) of transmission lines and 57,000 km (35,418 miles) of distribution lines.

Company mentioned:

BC Hydro www.bchydro.com

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