Fault Management Is All About Location, Location, LocationBack to Top
Imagine you live in a remote community. Your power is often unreliable, and your lights frequently blink. You’re also used to being the last stop on your utility’s lengthy repair route when severe weather strikes and widespread outages occur. Always feeling like the lowest priority is frustrating, and you’ve got your utility on speed dial to voice your frequent complaints.
It’s not that utilities don’t care about customers like you. But traditional utility fault-management efforts have focused primarily on feeders because these areas impact the most customers, leaving the outskirts of the grid less attended and these customers left to deal with far from perfect power.
However, innovative protection technologies are creating new opportunities for utilities to continue improving reliability on feeders, as well as work outward and easily manage faults on laterals and at the grid edge. Tackling systems holistically with several smart technologies working together enables utilities not only to improve their reliability scores, but to also achieve other goals, such as reducing maintenance costs and improving customer satisfaction—especially for those at the grid edge who are typically the last to see significant service improvements. This holistic approach is a matter of strategically choosing locations on the grid closest to faults and pairing them with the right devices—and the right amount—to reap multiple benefits systemwide.
Feeders still tend to be the areas utilities start with for reliability improvements because faults here have major impacts on the most customers—something no utility wants. However, managing faults isn’t as simple as placing a few fault interrupters here and there along a feeder and hoping for positive results. To move the needle on reliability improvements, precise, accurate fault interrupters are required to enable utilities to further segment lines, ensuring the lights stay on for the most customers on unaffected parts of the feeder—or even isolate faults and reroute power from an alternate source.
While these smart devices can provide utilities with significant rewards, to substantially improve reliability, laterals must also be included in utility fault-management strategies. While utilities have traditionally used conventional fuse-saving and fuse-blowing methods for lateral fault protection, neither strategy is ideal. Either utilities pay to roll trucks unnecessarily for outages that could have been avoided, or customers on the main feeder experience frequent blinks when upstream devices test for faults. Instead, single-phase reclosers combine the best of fuse-blowing and fuse-saving to keep temporary outages from becoming permanent and to isolate issues on laterals only to those laterals. With 80% of overhead faults occurring on laterals, bringing recloser technology out to laterals results in massive maintenance savings from avoided costly truck rolls.
And remember what it’s like to be that customer at the edge of the grid? Gone are the days where fuses were the only protection option. Fault-testing devices have advanced to replace the fuses above overhead distribution transformers near houses and businesses. These grid-edge issues tend to cluster in specific spots, so advanced protection solutions can target these troublesome pockets of the grid. Those customers that once had their utilities on speed dial now experience noticeable reliability improvements and are free of irritation caused by line crews repeatedly accessing their yards.
Strategically deploying advanced fault-protection solutions on the grid holistically, from feeders and laterals to the grid’s edge, can simultaneously enhance utilities’ ability to effectively manage faults, improve overall system reliability, reduce maintenance and operational costs, and increase customer satisfaction.
I’d be interested in learning your thoughts on using advanced protection technology to improve grid reliability and increase customer satisfaction.
August 9, 2019