Illuminating completes Lake County grid upgrades

  • November 29, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

First Energy subsidiary Illuminating is wrapping up smart grid upgrades across Lake County, Ohio, to help prevent or reduce the length of service disruptions, particularly during severe weather.

The work includes installation of automated equipment and technology in substations and along power lines serving nearly 35,000 customers in parts of Madison, Mentor, Painesville, Perry, Willoughby and nearby areas. Upgrades began in 2020 under the company’s initial three-year portfolio of grid modernisation work and are on track to be completed this autumn.

“As a result of system enhancements over the past three years, nearly 835,000 customer minutes of interruption have been saved in Lake County alone through our smart grid technology,” said Pat Mullin, acting president of First Energy’s Ohio operations. “These upgrades allow us to restore service to our customers faster following severe weather as well as pave the way for a more robust power system to support different types of energy sources in the years to come.”

Utility personnel have finished electrical equipment upgrades in six substations in Lake County and modernised power lines that deliver electric service to users from those facilities. With the work complete, thousands of homes and businesses in the area will benefit from the installation of 71 automated reclosing devices in the substations and along power lines to help limit the frequency, duration and scope of service interruptions.

These electrical devices work like a circuit breaker in a home that shuts off power when trouble occurs, with the added benefit of automatically reenergising a substation or power line within seconds for certain types of outages to keep power safely flowing. This technology is safer and more efficient because it often lets utility personnel automatically restore service in lieu of sending a crew to investigate.

If the device senses a more serious issue, such as a fallen tree on electrical equipment, it will isolate the outage to that area and limit the total number of affected users. The device’s smart technology will quickly pinpoint the location of the fault and help utility personnel better understand the cause of the outage to help speed restoration.

Locations for these automated devices were determined based on a review of historical outage patterns across Lake County to identify the areas that could benefit most from technology.

Additional power lines that tie together existing circuits have been constructed to provide more flexibility in restoring service following outages. The power lines will help reduce the length of outages and the overall number of customers impacted by switching them to a backup line for faster service restoration.

Lastly, 72 capacitor banks were installed to regulate voltage, helping provide energy savings by reducing the amount of electricity that must be generated and evenly distributing electricity to allow all users served by a single power line to receive the same flow of safe, reliable power.

Beyond the company’s investments in power lines and equipment, Illuminating has installed more than 25,000 smart meters for users in Lake County since 2020. As the latest in metering technology, smart meters help users track their energy consumption and reduce estimated readings. Smart meters also can be leveraged by those electing to enrol in programmes such as time-varying rates, which can provide price incentives to reduce electricity use during high demand periods throughout the day.

FirstEnergy’s Ohio utilities, including Illuminating, recently filed a plan with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) that would expand smart grid technology investments. The filing, known as Ohio Grid Mod II, proposes a four-year, $626m investment plan that builds upon system upgrades completed since the PUCO approved the utilities’ Grid Mod I plan in 2019.

In addition to power infrastructure upgrades, the proposed plan also includes several pilot programmes that could provide enhanced customer benefits, such as residential and non-residential electric vehicle managed charging incentives to help support the adoption of electric vehicles across the company’s Ohio service territories. The Grid Mod II Plan is subject to PUCO approval.

Illuminating serves 755,000 customers across Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties.