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Penn Power Expanding Smart Grid in Western Pennsylvania

Nov. 30, 2022
Work builds upon enhancements that have reduced the number, length of outages.

Penn Power, a FirstEnergy Corp. electric company in western Pennsylvania, continues to expand its smart grid in Mercer and Crawford counties to reinforce the local power system and help prevent lengthy service disruptions, especially during severe weather. Work includes installation of new, automated equipment and technology in distribution substations and along neighborhood power lines serving more than 20,000 customers in Sharon, Sharpsville, Hermitage, Transfer, Greenville, West Middlesex, Hartstown, Conneaut and nearby areas.

The work – expected to be completed in December – is part of Penn Power's second phase Long Term Infrastructure Improvement Plan (LTIIP II), approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to help enhance electric service for customers. The company's investments to enhance the local energy grid have successfully reduced the number and length of outages customers experience by up to 20% in areas where work has been completed.

"Penn Power has made significant investments in smart grid technologies in recent years, helping enhance our reliability performance and piloting new devices that our sister utilities have since begun to implement successfully within their own service areas," said Scott Wyman, president of FirstEnergy's Pennsylvania operations. "We remain committed to modernizing the technology and equipment used to provide safe, dependable electric service to our customers."

Hundreds of homes and businesses in the area will benefit from the installation of nearly 30 new automated reclosing devices in the substations and along neighborhood power lines that will help limit the frequency, duration and scope of service interruptions. These electrical devices work like a circuit breaker in a home that shuts off power when trouble occurs, with the added benefit of automatically reenergizing a substation or power line within seconds for certain types of outages to keep power safely flowing to customers. This technology is safer and more efficient because it often allows utility personnel to automatically restore service to customers in lieu of sending a crew to investigate.

If the device senses a more serious issue, like a fallen tree on electrical equipment, it will isolate the outage to that area and limit the total number of affected customers. The smart technology will quickly pinpoint the location of the fault and help utility personnel better understand the cause of the outage to help speed restoration.

Automated voltage regulators are also being installed to help ensure safe, constant voltage levels along power lines on extremely cold or hot days that create high demand for electricity. In addition to preventing voltage issues for customers, the devices could potentially help provide energy savings by evenly distributing electricity to allow all customers served by a single power line to receive the same flow of safe, reliable power.

Lastly, additional power lines are being constructed to provide more flexibility in restoring outages due to events such as storms and vehicle accidents. The new power lines will help reduce the length and overall number of customers impacted during an outage by switching them to a backup line for faster service restoration.

This work builds upon system upgrades that were completed in recent years across Penn Power's service area in Mercer and Crawford counties, including the installation of more than 200 automated reclosing devices in rural, tree-filled communities, and the addition of interior fencing in four substations to help deter climbing animals and protect against electrical equipment interference that can cause power outages.

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