Vortex Schmortex -- How one utility cut winter power outages in half

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Who's afraid of the big bad Polar Vortex? Most of the cities in the eastern half of North America, that's who. The polar weather anomaly brought heavy snows and exceptional cold throughout the region, even to southern cities that don't normally expect it. But one southern city dodged the vortex bullet thanks to self-healing technologies. Here's the story from two of the people who made it happen. – Jesse Berst

 

By David Wade and Mike Edmonds

 

Winter weather has put cities to the test this year. Frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall have created major problems for roadways, railways and airports. It’s also stressed electric power systems, with snow and ice leading to extensive power outages. These conditions hamper business productivity while also posing threats to health and human safety.

 

The weather has been particularly hard on southern cities that are not accustomed to heavy snowfall. One southern city, however, was in much better position to deal with the damage to electrical infrastructure from these storms. Chattanooga, Tenn., has built the most automated power system of its size in the U.S., which has helped the city realize a major reduction in the length and scope of power outages.

 

Reducing power outages with a self-healing smart grid

On Feb. 12, the city’s smart grid was again put to the test when a major snowstorm struck several southeastern states. Chattanooga was hit with up to 11 inches of wet, heavy snow, which downed trees and power lines throughout the region. As a result of the power system damage, about 36,000 homes and businesses experienced a sustained power outage of five minutes or longer.

 

Chattanooga’s smart grid, however, prevented power outages or automatically restored electric power to about 40,000 customers—an over 50% reduction in the number of customers who otherwise would have experienced a sustained outage.  

 

Local utility EPB has installed roughly 1,200 S&C IntelliRupter® PulseClosers with IntelliTeam® SG Automatic Restoration System to provide rapid response to power system disturbances. In the event of a power outage, the IntelliRupters communicate with each other over EPB’s fiber optic network to identify where the fault occurred, and then quickly reroute power to restore service to as many customers as possible.