On April 12, 2018, at around 11:30 a.m. an equipment issue de-energized the Taylor substation in Northeast Columbus. The event caused 6,083 customers to lose their power. For most customers, the normal restoration time for this type of outage is approximately 83 minutes; however, all 6,083 customers had their power back in a mere 100 seconds.
So how did AEP Ohio drastically reduce its response time? Credit the magic of Distribution Automation Circuit Reconfiguration (DACR), a technology that is improving the customer experience in Northeast Columbus and is slowly rolling out across the rest of the state.
When a substation is no longer able to feed power to its neighboring customers, the standard restoration procedure is to send crews into the field to manually switch reclosers one at a time to transfer customers to alternate circuits. (And, when the issue is fixed, crews returning to manually switch them again). It’s a time-consuming process.
With DACR, this process occurs automatically. Employees at the Distribution Dispatching Center (“the digital cockpit for grid modernization”) can see the outage when it lights up their digital map. Electricity is automatically rerouted to different circuits so power keeps flowing to customers with just a brief interruption – and in some cases, DACR prevents outages completely. Once damaged equipment is repaired, the DDC can return the system to normal with a few clicks of the mouse. DACR is a powerful tool for improving reliability, and it has important maintenance and safety benefits too.
“For most outages we send trucks to the field to restore power,” says Paul Thomas, distribution system planning supervisor. “This technology lets us reduce truck travel time and minimizes setting up crews in traffic. It helps keep our people out of harm’s way.”
As a bonus, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio records outages that last more than five minutes as “permanent” – a serious ding against the company when reliability scores are calculated. By keeping outages below this five-minute threshold, AEP Ohio is not only restoring power to customers faster but avoiding black marks in this dubious category.
The first phase of DACR installation began in 2011, bringing the technology to 83 circuits in Ohio (70 in Northeast Columbus). Phase 2 started in 2017, and AEP Ohio is in the process of rolling it out to 250 more circuits that serve approximately 330,000 customers. Priority is being given to circuits that have been performing poorly. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2023.
“By quickly pinpointing where power was disrupted, we can restore power much more rapidly,” says Scott Osterholt, director of grid modernization. “It’s a ‘self-healing’ system. Customers shouldn’t have to notify us about outages, and power is re-routed so that any outages are minimized or eliminated completely. We’re excited about the next wave of installations because reliability should improve in those areas. It’s a great advancement both for our customers and our company.”