T&D World Magazine

PECO Installing Smart Switches for Distribution Circuits

All sorts of things can happen to cause power outages – trees can contact aerial utility lines, vehicles sometimes strike poles, birds and squirrels can make the wrong move and trip electrical equipment, equipment fails at times, and wind and lightning can result in power problems, for example.

One approach PECO is taking to improve electric service reliability is by making its distribution circuits operate “smarter.” That is, sophisticated smart switches, also known as reclosers and sectionalizers, are installed with telecommunications to automatically sense “faults” or problems on a distribution circuit that cause outages affecting customers.

The switches, which break up the length of the circuit, have built-in intelligence to sense when a circuit experiences a fault and activates automatically, most often keeping the lights on for many customers, or transferring customers to an adjacent circuit within minutes. The devices then communicate this information to PECO’s operations center. This allows PECO to better pinpoint the problem and dispatch utility crews to make for repairs quicker.

“We are making a concerted effort to improve electric service reliability for customers in the local area. These devices are proven effective, and they certainly will make a positive impact on service quality for the area,” said John McDonald, PECO vice president, Technical Services.

PECO will invest nearly $4 million this year on its distribution automation, one facet of its annual reliability improvement program. McDonald said distribution automation improves the utility’s system performance, saves operating costs, and helps to satisfy customers with improved reliability.

PECO has more than 1,300 smart switches on its electric distribution system across the Greater Philadelphia region. The company estimates these switches prevent outages for more than 500,000 customers each year. Each device costs between $50,000 and $65,000, and installation takes about a week.

Nearly 50 distribution circuits will be upgraded this year with reclosers or sectionalizers. PECO is also upgrading telecommunication equipment on existing devices to enable them to share information between one another, making them part of PECO’s ongoing development of a smart grid.

Circuits were selected based on the number of customers served and their recent outage history. The circuit upgrades are planned this year in Delaware County in Chester, Chichester, Bryn Mawr, Woodlyn, Media, Morton, Middletown, Springfield, and Radnor.

In Chester County, customers in Berwyn, Paoli, Malvern, Downingtown, and around Phoenixville will benefit.

In Montgomery County customers will benefit mainly in Horsham, North Wales, Upper Moreland, and in the Plymouth-Whitemarsh area.

Areas of Northeast Philadelphia and Central Bucks also were included in the distribution automation program this year.

Distribution automation is one component of a smart grid in the making for PECO. In the electric industry, smart grid technology connects power generation facilities to the end users with advanced controls and telecommunications for enhanced operations, reliability, cybersecurity, and consumer benefits.

Distribution automation is one part of PECO’s overall $400 million capital investment program for this year, which is designed to upgrade and modernize regional utility facilities, improve electric and gas delivery system performance, enhance service reliability for customers, and meet the needs of areas with growing use of electric or natural gas, as well as raise operational productivity and energy efficiency.

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