Electric co-ops lead the way in introducing outage-prevention technology

Electric co-ops are leading the utility industry in the installation of smart meters that can provide more than a meter reading. Smart meters can provide power quality information and help pinpoint outages and momentary blinks.

It may surprise some folks that electric co-ops have emerged as leaders in the down-line automation field. But innovation is a key part of our cooperative DNA. It embodies the same spirit that drove rural residents to find ways to overcome seemingly insurmountable technical, engineering, legal, political, and financial hurdles and bring electric service to all corners of America 75 years ago. Today co-ops are building a smarter grid.

 In sprawling, rugged service territories with densities sometimes as low as two or three consumers per mile, down-line automation can substantially lower costs by reducing truck rolls. Following massive storms, the ability to target outage locations from the office and efficiently dispatch line crews can significantly speed up getting the lights back on.

 One of the major areas where advancements are taking place involves down-line automation. An umbrella term describing the use of digital meters and equipment, software applications, and two-way communications, down-line automation allows your electric cooperative to effectively monitor the flow of electricity in near real-time; identify voltages out of allowed ranges; pinpoint outages; and transmit signals to transformers, capacitors, circuit breakers, and other devices to initiate diagnostic or corrective actions that can isolate, reroute power around, or even remotely repair the cause of a power interruption.

 One of the most promising advances in down-line automation, distribution fault analysis (DFA), taps high-resolution monitors installed on electric lines and cutting-edge algorithms to zero in on hard-to-find electric system trouble spots before they morph into full-blown outages. DFA “reads and identifies” specific fault signatures in a waveform — such as a cracked insulator or a tree limb occasionally brushing a line and causing a blink.

 Source: By Maurice Martin and Brian Sloboda, Cooperative Research Network