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Are We There Yet?

I have a relatively high tolerance for pain. Maybe that explains why my family still takes 14-hour road trips each Christmas from Kansas City to visit

I HAVE A RELATIVELY HIGH TOLERANCE FOR PAIN. Maybe that explains why my family still takes 14-hour road trips each Christmas from Kansas City to visit family in Atlanta. When the kids were young, this was one ugly trip. Typically, a couple hours down the road, one of the kids would ask, “Daddy, are we almost there?” My wife and I would hear this refrain in one form or another for the next 12 hours.

Unfortunately, some in positions of power in our industry seem to have the patience of six year olds and want things done yesterday. With our short-term fixation on quarterly earnings, we've lost our ability to plan and execute. Instead, we go for the short-term fix asking for near-instant results with next-to-no investment.

 2006 - 20072007 - 20102010 - 2015
Studies •Telecommunications structures
•Information needs
•Automatic network reconfiguration •Micro-islanding
Technologies implemented •Install remote-control switches and breakers •Sensors for voltage control and fault location
•Data gathering from existing remote-control cabinets
•Low-voltage net metering
•Power-quality monitoring
•Intelligent underground vaults
•Controllable feeder voltage regulators
•Controllable feeder capacitors
•Automatic system reconfiguration
Functions to be developed •Voltage control
•Fault location
•Telecommunications structures
•Intelligent system for predictive maintenance

A few utilities out there have been able to maintain a grasp on the time and effort required to deliver on major initiatives. I hope that they will lead us back to an era when we “planned our work and worked our plan.”

Hydro-Québec is one utility that takes the long view. Back in January 1999, I wrote about this utility's vision for the future. You might remember that the Québec government decided not to follow the herd when so many countries were breaking up government-owned utilities and selling off the pieces. Instead, the Québec government kept Hydro-Québec as the exclusive property of the government, seeing value in keeping the company whole. Today, Hydro-Québec remains a major exporter of electricity from its massive generating stations. At the same time, this utility invests heavily in research and continues to embrace new technologies. In November 2004, T&D World covered Hydro-Québec's installation of the world's first-ever variable frequency transformer.

This February, I sat in on George Semard's “Hydro-Québec's Distribution Technology Roadmap” session at the DistribuTECH conference in Tampa, Florida, U.S. Hydro-Québec developed this roadmap to enable the company's distribution arm to tie internal objectives to the needs of its customers, who increasingly insist on energy efficiency and reliable delivery.

Semard shared that in July 2005, the regulatory body of the province of Québec authorized the installation of 3750 medium-voltage, remote-control load-break switches and breakers at a cost of CDN$188 million. Semard also mentioned that the company performed an internal study that concluded the distribution network must become more intelligent by integrating network equipment while monitoring the condition of the devices on the system.

Technologies the utility is considering include power-quality monitors (to be placed on feeders), fault-location sensors, intelligent meters and intelligent voltage sensors.

Hydro-Québec Distribution, supported by external benchmark reports from both CEATI and EPRI, believes that an “intelligent network” is a must and that a remote-control distribution network is the first step toward reaching this objective. Consequently, distribution automation is a major and integral part of the Hydro-Québec's roadmap. Hydro-Québec's ultimate vision includes an intelligent network that will support plug-and-play technologies.

Hydro-Québec Distribution is pursuing a strategy to automate distribution to:

  • Leverage existing technologies where available

  • Influence the industry to develop international standards for distribution automation

  • Develop new technologies if necessary.

The timetable above shows where Hydro-Québec intends to invest its time and resources in the next 10 years.

There has been a lot of buzz in our industry recently about the intelligent utility. But only intelligent individuals, making intelligent decisions with properly funded strategies and the perseverance to meet milestones, will create an intelligent utility. Hydro-Québec has planned its work. Now let's see how this utility works its plan. If it follows through, it will set an example for the rest of the industry.

Editor's note: For more information, check out the strategic plan for Hydro-Québec Distribution at

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