A high tech, smart-grid solution could cut down the duration of power outages for thousands of FirstEnergy‘s Potomac Edisoncustomers in the Eastern Panhandle to about 60 seconds.
According to Potomac Edison spokesperson Todd Meyers, the company, which serves 137,000 customers in the Panhandle, is looking for suitable locations for its prototype smart reclosers or electronic circuit breakers.
“The Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, particularly Berkeley County, is among the fastest-growing portions of our West Virginia service area,” Meyers said. “We are looking for suitable candidates in the Eastern Panhandle to expand the automated, smart recloser technology explored in Garrett County, Maryland.”
In January, Potomac Edison engineers installed seven smart reclosers or electronic circuit breakers at strategic intervals along two interconnected lines in Oakland, Maryland. The problematic set of two lines or circuits serves about 2,160 customers along a 105-mile stretch.
Reclosers are protective devices that can sense a problem or fault on the line, such as a tree branch or failed equipment. Meyers said these high-tech devices are designed to open and interrupt the power if the problem persists for more than a few seconds, which causes an outage, but ultimately saves major damage to equipment that could lead to costly and lengthy repairs and longer outages.
“Once the typical recloser is open, a lineman needs to drive out, investigate the problem and reset the equipment,” Meyers said. “That takes time, and customers are without power until the process is complete.”
But the new technology prevents significant outages for customers by operating automatically, temporarily reconfiguring the electrical system so most customers can be fed with electricity even while repairs are being made.
“All this happens within 60 seconds of the initial problem being detected,” Meyers explained.
In simple terms, one of the lines does double duty, handling customers for both circuits, while repairs are made to the damaged section of wire on the other circuit.
“They are programmable, which means that without any human intervention they can sense the problem and work in concert with the other programmable reclosers along the line to operate automatically to reconfigure the system in a matter of seconds, isolating the problem and greatly limiting the number of customers affected by the outage,” he said.
Engineers from Potomac Edison are looking for the best areas to install the new recloser technology that are prone to power outages.
“The lines also need to be in close enough proximity to each other with strong tie points so one circuit can perform the duty of the other circuit when there is a problem and the automated technology deploys,” Meyers said.
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