Whenever utility executives talk about the smart grid, the conversation is inevitably dominated by the latest developments with microgrids and other modes of distributed energy.
That’s all well and good. But it’s sometimes easy to forget that the grid’s foundation rests on a backbone of central generation plants and high-voltage transmission lines. And that won’t change anytime soon. But the backbone, like most of us, is showing its age.
Yet, residents, landowners and regulators are wary of massive new energy projects. Instead we’ve turned to the smart grid to address questions about what comes next. So far, we’ve provided some really good answers, which speak to power delivery that is more resilient, efficient and less expensive.
We see this thinking in evidence with the Marcy-South Series Compensation Project —a joint venture of the New York Power Authority and New York State Electric and Gas. It will increase power flows on two existing parallel transmission lines from Central New York to the Catskills region. Two 345 kV lines will be bolstered to increase power flows by up to 440 megawatts. That means generating enough electricity as a medium-sized power plant without building new lines.
That will be accomplished by replacing existing wires with higher-capacity versions. The current towers will be complemented by new equipment for controlling and coordinating voltage. The capacitor banks will be installed starting this summer and the line replacements should be finished by June 2016. The first cost estimate was for equipment, which prior to detailed engineering was approximately $76 million, a fraction of what would have been needed if we started a new transmission system from scratch.
The smart-grid technology being employed is particularly exciting, and not just for an engineer like me who has spent most of his working life in the power industry. The new equipment for the Marcy South project will use fiber optics to instantaneously convey data on power flows to a computer-based protection system. It will also feature software that will allow increased power flows on key transmission lines beyond their rated capacity based on real-time information of local weather conditions and their potential impact.
That kind of situational awareness of transmission conditions is as important as anything we do. NYPA has many long-tenured employees. For them, memories of 2003 remain fresh. Those memories also inform other initiatives, which include making the switchyard at NYPA’s St. Lawrence hydroelectric plant in Massena one of the most advanced transmission hubs in North America.
In a way, it’s like using medical instruments that monitor blood pressure and other vital signs for hypertension and the risk of a stroke or heart attack. But the switchyard equipment is designed to diagnose and cure any problems, in a fraction of the time it took for you to read this sentence.
It should also be emphasized that this initiative is an important component of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy and the New York Energy Highway plan, which call for making the state’s electric power system more responsive to customer needs. REV also recognizes that distributed energy networks will become a more ubiquitous part of the energy mix. We need to be ready for that day to come. It’s the smart thing to do.
Gil C. Quiniones is president and chief executive officer of the N.Y. Power Authority.