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Timing Is Everything

Jan. 11, 2016
In T&D, timing is even more critical than on the ball field.

Baseball is America’s pastime and one of my passions. My twin brother and I were raised playing the sport. When we were back in little league, life seemed to move slower than it does today. Kids then didn’t have much supervision, and we were expected to make our own fun. We always had time for a pick-up game in the yard. And we handled our own transportation, riding our bikes to the practice field a couple of miles from the house. I played first base and Ronnie played shortstop. Baseball was a family affair with the rest of the family coming to watch every game.

When my son Jimmy decided to follow in my footsteps, I coached his team. I even did a little umpiring. Close plays at first base were always the hardest for me to call, but I was consoled by knowing that ties go to the runner.

I live in Kansas City, and this year our KC Royals won the World Series. My wife and I watched every minute of every playoff game. It was great. We even went to the victory parade and celebrated with 800,000 enthusiastic fans.

Watching the playoffs on television, I noticed that the game is different now because the coaches can challenge an umpire’s call. When this happens, an umpire sequestered off-site looks at computer screens using slow motion from multiple angles to review the play. I was amazed at how many calls were overturned.

In T&D, timing is even more critical than on the ball field. On the grid, we now have access to high-speed monitoring tied to universal time stamps. My friend Alison Silverstein invited me out for dinner when we were in Chicago for the CIGRE USNC Grid of the Future event, which I wrote about in December. Alison is the project manager for the North American SynchroPhasor Initiative (NASPI), so our discussion swirled around how we could extract the most value out of our emerging synchrophasor networks. The graph below shows the location of more than 1,800 phasor measurement units and corresponding data flows across North America. You might recall that under American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, the Department of Energy supported a significant number of utilities in building out their synchrophasor networks.

By accurately measuring voltage and current as a function of time, parameters including frequency and phase angle can be calculated and used in many ways. Alison provided me with a NASPI document entitled “The Value Proposition for Synchrophasor Technology,” which lays out the ways to identify and quantify the value of synchrophasor investments for planning, event analysis or operations.

To start with, we can now use wide-area monitoring and situational awareness tools to spot and address instabilities early. And under extreme situations, we can shift generation sources or shed load to keep the grid from tripping out.

What else can we do? Off-line we can validate and improve our generator, load and system models, and we can enhance state estimation accuracy. We can also evaluate equipment misoperations and perform post-event analysis.

People in operations will benefit, as well. They will gain better situational awareness, and they will be able to better detect oscillations and more closely track voltage stability. As a result, they will be able to respond more quickly and effectively to events including outages and islanding, and help integrate renewable generation.

Most importantly, how will customers benefit? Through reduced congestion costs, fewer outages and faster restoration. It is tough for utilities to put numbers to the value received from synchrophasors. Fortunately, the staff at the California Energy Commission took a shot in a 2014 study. They predicted that Californians would see $260 million in net present value annualized benefits, taking into account avoided customer outages and reduced electricity costs.

I started this piece by stating that timing is everything. I would like to end by stating that now is the time to increase our investment in synchrophasors and analysis. In so doing, we will provide better service for our customers.

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