Southern California Edison Unveils Smart Neighborhood Electricity Circuit

Oct. 24, 2007
Southern California Edison has designed and installed the nation's advanced neighborhood electricity circuit, according to the company

Southern California Edison has designed and installed the nation’s most advanced neighborhood electricity circuit, according to the company. The pioneering project, known as “Circuit of the Future,” recently began delivering power to 1420 residential and business customers in Southern California’s Inland Empire, the nation’s fastest growing urban region.

“A high-tech world can no longer afford a low-tech electricity grid,” said John E. Bryson, chairman and chief executive officer of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison. “With smart grid technology, power outages will be fewer and shorter. Because advanced digital technology can react more quickly than human operators, potential problems can be identified, analyzed and isolated before they become significant power outages.”

Much like a household electrical circuit, utility distribution circuits are individual segments of larger power grids that are controlled with on-off switches and protected by circuit breakers. They carry power from neighborhood substations to homes and businesses. SCE’s 50,000-square-mile power delivery network is subdivided into 4200 such circuits, each connecting and delivering power to approximately 1500 residential and business customers.

The U.S. Department of Energy provided almost $1 million in research and development funds in support of the SCE smart circuit project.

“Projects such as Southern California Edison’s Circuit of the Future will enhance the reliability and security of our nation’s electric systems,” said U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary Kevin Kolevar. “Demonstrating how advanced technologies will perform under real-world grid conditions is an important next step toward achieving President Bush’s goal of accelerating the penetration of advanced technologies to modernize our electric infrastructure. I applaud SCE for its vision and leadership in this effort.”

SCE is investing at record levels in its neighborhood power distribution system. During the past five years the company has invested $5 billion in distribution infrastructure expansion and replacement to keep pace with a growing service area and to retire aging components. SCE plans to invest $9 billion in its distribution system during the next five years.

“It is shortsighted to invest billions in the same old circuit designs and components when our customers are investing in advanced digital equipment,” said Ron Litzinger, SCE’s senior vice president of transmission and distribution. “The goal of all of our smart grid initiatives is a power delivery system as advanced as the devices our customers plug into it.”

SCE engineers built five advanced technologies into the Circuit of the Future that promise to give customers surer electricity service, fewer outages with faster service restoration and lower future costs than would otherwise occur.

New Technologies

  • At the heart of the Circuit of the Future is a digital systems controller that functions like the circuit’s brain to identify, analyze and isolate circuit problems.
  • One of the technologies this “circuit brain” uses is an advanced fiber optic communication system that allows grid operators to respond more quickly to changing circuit conditions.
  • The Circuit of the Future is the first U.S. distribution circuit to use powerful new surge protection devices called fault current limiters to rapidly sense and isolate problems.
  • Another new system the Circuit of the Future brain controls is duct bank temperature monitoring making it possible to manage Edison’s power grid more efficiently.
  • The circuit is capable of using plug-and-play distributed generation much like hooking up a portable generator to an entire circuit.

“In addition to providing more reliable service for our customers, smart grid technology is also safer for the public and for SCE employees who work on the electrical system,” said Bryson. “And yet more exciting advances are on the horizon. Smart grid technology will eventually help make it possible for utilities to integrate larger amounts of intermittent renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar into our grids.”

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