Con Edison and other utilities along the East Coast of the United States have embarked on major investments to protect our energy systems and, in turn, our customers, from the next Sandy or other major storm. We are planning to invest US$1 billion over the next four years on storm-hardening projects, and we are working with New York state regulators on that plan now.
The new equipment we install — ranging from submersible transformers, to higher substation walls, to smart switches on bigger and stronger utility poles — will help protect our systems from flood damage and shorten the duration of power outages for our customers. These measures, among many we are taking, will have the added benefits of improving overall reliability during major heat waves while making our delivery system even stronger.
Con Edison operates a highly complex underground and overhead electric delivery system, with multiple redundancies, that serves more than 9 million New Yorkers. Keeping the lights on 24/7 in a city that also happens to be a global center of finance, media, mass transit and commerce is no easy job.
Ordinarily, we spend about $2 billion each year on investments in our electric, gas and steam systems. These investments lead to high reliability, providing customers with energy they can count on to power their computers, smart phones and entertainment systems — not to mention air conditioning during those hot and humid New York summers.
A measure of the likelihood of a network to experience cascading failures over time.
Gathering regulatory or political support for new infrastructure investments is never easy either, since new investments often mean higher rates for customers. But it can be easier to win that support when you can show that your investments are smart, strategic and give our customers better service; or in other words, making sure we provide the most value for our customers’ hard-earned dollars.
Since 2000, Con Edison engineers have been working with outside experts honing complex formulas and analytics that tell us not only how much money we need to invest, but where specifically to put that money. We have made use of a reliability model to predict the likelihood of major network failures.
Using a simulation process, we are able to imitate real-life conditions using probability statistics that show us where equipment failures are most likely to occur. This simulation is a long-range planning tool, giving us a window that looks at our system over a 20-year period. The simulation accounts for age, condition, failure rate, exposure to the environment, the possibility of cascading failures and other variables. In a one-hour period, we can run up to 10,000 iterations of scenarios that can help target our equipment investments.
We can point to real, tangible results from our analysis and research. Major equipment failures in the past decade, in nearly every category, have declined. As a result, our customers have experienced fewer and less-prolonged power outages during major heat waves. Our advancements with smart grid technology, in both our underground and overhead delivery systems, have helped contain the size of outages and helped curtail their duration. And we have the data to back up our claims. The embedded chart shows the annual rankings of Con Edison’s electric network performance based upon the Network Reliability Index model, where we quantify the relative risk or potential for a network to experience a shutdown because of cascading feeder failures.
Knowing in advance which power cable or feeder, joint, splice or transformer is likely to fail and cause wider problems gives our planners a huge advantage in spending our customers’ money wisely. We channel our reliability investments to retire those components most likely to fail and replace them with newer and more reliable equipment to avoid service problems.
John Miksad is senior vice president of electric operations for Con Edison of New York. His organization is responsible for the safe and reliable delivery of electricity to 9 million residents of New York City and Westchester County. He has been with the company for 32 years.