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Blackout prevention effort launched as anniversary looms


As the dog days of summer approach, the electrical grid feels the heat, but a new integrated data network may help the aging transmission system weather the season without another massive blackout like the one experienced over much of the Eastern United States and Canada last August.

The Eastern Interconnection Phasor Project will "go live" this summer providing the first real-time, system-wide data to utilities and transmission operators within the Eastern power grid.

"If this system had been in place last year, it may have helped system operators take steps to avoid the August 14 blackout," said Matt Donnelly EIPP project lead at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

PNNL manages the project for DOE as part of the Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions. CERTS members also provide technical support to an independent EIPP Work Group – a collaboration of utilities, system operators, vendors and power system reliability councils working together to put the integrated network in place.

"The project is about gathering and sharing information to provide complete coverage of the power grid in the eastern U.S.," said Donnelly. With each incremental addition to the EIPP network, the equipment and software that has been installed will provide operators with a big picture of the grid over the eastern half of the country, referred to as the Eastern Interconnection.

Even though the transmission system is interconnected to route electricity between utilities, information has not been efficiently shared between those organizations. As noted by the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force on the August 2003 blackout, there has been "no consistent means across the Eastern Interconnection to provide an understanding of the status of the power grid outside of a control area."

"If operators can see a disruption or failure occurring elsewhere in the region, they can take actions that will potentially prevent a cascading loss of power from one system to the next," said Mike Ingram of the Tennessee Valley Authority. "They may be able to reroute transmissions or bring extra power generation on-line."

To get this data, new measurement technologies employing satellite-based time clocks are being installed at key locations on the grid to measure power flows in real time. The precise time clocks along with sophisticated signal processing allow the meters to provide more information than can be derived from traditional instruments. EIPP participants believe the additional information can be used to help improve grid reliability.

Data concentrators then collect and integrate the precision data and disseminate it to participants, while software analysis tools make sense of the real-time monitoring.

DOE began working with major Eastern Interconnection utilities and independent system operators to develop a monitoring system in the fall of 2002 and began installing equipment in the fall of 2003. The project builds on PNNL’s 10-years of experience developing a similar measurement and analysis system for the Bonneville Power Administration and utilities in the Western United States.

Initially, control centers near St. Louis; Columbus, Ohio; Chattanooga, Tenn.; New Orleans and Schenectady, New York, will be linked through the EIPP and will start sharing information this month.

The EIPP project is expected to cover and connect most major eastern U.S. corridors by the end of 2005. Together, participating utilities have invested about $1 million toward this effort and DOE has provided about $750,000.

"DOE and the utilities are aggressively responding to recommendations in the blackout report and we’re expecting that the EIPP will play a key role in preventing a repeat of last summer’s blackout," said Donnelly.

Utilities participating in Phase One of EIPP include Ameren, American Electric Power, Entergy, the Midwest ISO, the New York ISO with the New York Power Authority, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Susan Bauer | EurekAlert!
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