Duke Energy is working to modernize the electricity grid

January 19th, 2012    Author: Kristin Bednarski    Filed Under: News

Steve Hinkel, director of advanced technology applications for Duke Energy, explains how digital power meters work. The power meters are located in the Duke Energy Envision Center, where advanced energy technology is tested and presented to consumers.

Duke Energy has big things planned in the near future for Clermont County and the rest of Greater Cincinnati that will benefit both customers and the environment.

Jim Farley Jr., manager of distribution automation deployment for Duke Energy, opens a power box to look at the latest Smart Grid technology that was installed on power lines in Milford. The technology helps prevent power outages and will do much more in the future.

Already, the power company has installed technology in Clermont County that will help restore power quicker than ever, and beyond that, the company is looking to change the way customers receive information about their energy consumption.

According to Steve Hinkel, director of advanced technology applications for Duke Energy, while many other industries have taken the leap into digital technology, electricity hasn’t changed much since the days of Thomas Edison and the electric light bulb.

“It’s time to be upgraded,” Hinkel said about electricity.

So for the past several years, Hinkel said Duke Energy has been working to develop Smart Grid, or digital grid, technology, which is similar to what is used in a cell phone.

The technology is the future of electricity, and it is already helping Duke Energy employees make better decisions by providing constant feedback.

Currently, Duke employees are working to install Smart Grid technology in electric boxes and transformers throughout Greater Cincinnati including several locations in Clermont County.

“The sensors in the boxes report back to Duke,” Hinkel said about how Smart Grid works.

The specific boxes that contain the technology have formed what Duke refers to as “self-healing teams” of power lines, which communicate via the Smart Grid to help Duke pin-point power outages and prevent them from affecting customers.

“We have no clue that the power is out unless customers complain,” Hinkel said about the previous technology.

But with the new technology, Hinkel said sensors help locate the problem zone where an outage has occurred on a series of power lines.

Instead of the power being down for customers on the entire series of lines, Hinkel said power is restored almost immediately to the unharmed lines thanks to the Smart Grid technology.

This also enables Duke Energy workers to go directly to the problem zone, instead of searching for it along the different power lines.

“Before, we had to open the switch with a bucket truck and find the area,” Jim Farley Jr., manager of distribution and automation deployment for Duke, said. “Now they are automated switches that communicate back.”

Farley said Duke has already installed 17 self-healing teams in the Greater Cincinnati area since 2009, and three of those teams are located in Clermont County.

Since the installation of the teams in Clermont County, Farley said they have prevented thousands of Duke Energy customers from having to deal with power outages.

He said one example of this was on Aug. 31, 2011, when a self-healing team prevented 1,204 customers from having a power outage that lasted 71 minutes in Clermont County.

Because the self-healing teams were able to communicate back to Duke Energy about the outage on that day, Duke was able to provide power to customers from other lines that weren’t affected.

This type of communication is what the Smart Grid technology focuses on, and the self-healing teams are just the start.

Hinkel explained that Duke is already working to create computer technology that will use Smart Grid to communicate with customers in a whole new way.

“Today, people pay for energy at a flat rate,” Hinkel said. “In the future world, we can send you an update.”

Hinkel said that eventually, Smart Grid technology will allow customers to have continuous access to their energy consumption via a digital meter at their home.

The technology will allow communication back to Duke Energy and computer software will be available for customers so they can have access to what energy they are using on a daily basis.

Sally Thelen, spokesperson for Duke Energy, said the new technology puts energy knowledge at customers’ fingertips.

“We’re giving you the knowledge of how to use the technology to make smart decisions for your house,” Thelen said.

Hinkel, who is already testing the technology in his own home, said 99 percent of customers don’t know how much energy they use or what appliances in their home use the most energy.

“Unfortunately, that is what we do to customers today,” he said about the current monthly billing system.

He said the new technology can break down energy costs by each appliance in the home and will present the information to customers in the form of graphs and charts.

Hinkel said customers can use the information however they please, whether they want to conserve energy to spend less, or make sure they are using the most efficient appliances.

He said customers can also use the technology to automatically turn
down a thermostat, dim the lights and help customers conserve energy,
especially when they are out of the house.

“My house essentially goes to sleep at 7 a.m. and wakes up at 6 p.m.,” Hinkel said.

The technology will also eliminate the need for a service worker to come into a customer’s home to read their meter because the energy consumption information will be transmitted digitally back to Duke Energy.

Hinkel said the smart grid technology is working great in his home, however, it is not ready to be sold just yet. He said Duke is hoping to have the cost of the technology reduced so it can be available for somewhere close to $200 per customer by 2015.

And while investing in the technology will help consumers save money in the future, it will also helping Duke Energy save power, which is what the company will be focusing on in coming years.

“The more we educate customers about energy efficiency, the more we can prevent having to build another power plant,” Thelen said.

For more information about Smart Grid technology visit www.duke-energy.com/about-us/smart-grid.asp.

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