Modernizing the Grid

by Daetta Jones
Ameren Illinois

Recent smart-grid enhancements have resulted in a 17-percent improvement in reliability.

In early August, a noteworthy event occurred in central Illinois… and nobody knew about it. Similar events are occurring every day in cities and towns dotted along 43,000 square miles of Illinois landscape, from LaSalle-Peru in the north to deep southern Illinois. These events may go relatively unnoticed, but the impact they're having on the delivery of reliable, uninterrupted energy for residential and business electric utility customers is nothing short of game-changing.

Here's what happened: a piece of equipment in one of Ameren Illinois' major Peoria substations malfunctioned. Substations are complex operations, with hundreds of intricate, interdependent connections that accept high-voltage transmission power and reduce it to a lower voltage to deliver to our homes and businesses. For a number of reasons (weather, animal contact, routine wear and tear), equipment in substations can sometimes malfunction.

At this substation in Peoria, the fault was detected by new sensors—called IntelliRupters—that Ameren Illinois had installed. These automated, remotely-controlled devices sense the condition of the grid, determine appropriate switching actions to reduce the number of customers affected by an outage, and work in tandem with other switching devices to isolate the outage and restore power within minutes.

A few years ago, lightning caused a fault to a substation circuit breaker, which would have left 1,911 Peoria customers without power for at least 90 minutes. However, the new technology limited this outage to 403 customers and—after a three-minute outage for the new system to calculate a safe and effective switch—redirected 1,508 customers to receive their power from a neighboring substation.

Other smart-grid enhancements being implemented in the Peoria area include:

  • High-voltage distribution relaying devices to quickly pinpoint the location of a problem on a circuit;
  • Replacement of underground cables that are prone to corrosion, fatigue and other stresses;
  • Installation of distribution substation transformers;
  • Hundreds of miles of new high-capacity power lines;
  • Stronger, storm-hardened power poles; and
  • Smart sensors and switches on poles and substations to quickly detect problems and isolate interruptions.

Since Ameren Illinois' modernization program began, these improvements have resulted in a 17-percent improvement in reliability. When customers do experience an outage, Ameren Illinois is restoring power 18-percent faster on average than in previous years. Using the U.S. Department of Energy’s Interruption Cost Estimate Calculator (ICE), these improvements save residential and small commercial customers an estimated $47 million a year. In addition, more than 800 employees and 1,000 contract workers have been hired to help implement these improvements to the electric and natural gas infrastructure, providing a needed boost to economies in downstate Illinois.

Illinois is also receiving national recognition for its progress in building a modernized electric grid. The state now ranks second in the nation on the Grid Modernization Index, a survey that benchmarks states on infrastructure development policies and investments.

The electric delivery system we have come to rely on for over 100 years is in the midst of transformative change. It’s becoming more technologically advanced, more innovative and more responsive to the evolving needs of our residential and business customers. iBi

Daetta Jones is Director of Division Operations for Ameren Illinois.

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