By Matt Knott, JD Energy division of JD Technologies, LLC
Southern California Edison (SCE) is one of the largest electric utilities in the United States. Servicing over 15 million people in 50,000 square miles across central and southern California, SCE focuses on the safe, reliable and affordable delivery of power through its transmission and distribution networks. SCE’s distribution system, which takes power from substations to customers, includes over 53,000 line miles of overhead lines, 38,000 line miles of underground lines and approximately 800 distribution substations.
Using thousands of wires and relays to reduce the voltage levels coming from transmission lines to serve industrial, commercial and residential customers, substations have been a key part of the electric system for over a century. Over this timeframe they have operated virtually in the same manner, with relative ease and predictability. However, ever-tightening budgets, more stringent regulations, and the greater penetration of distributed energy resources introducing greater complexity has driven SCE to take a closer look at a better way to operate their substations.
One of the most important pieces of equipment within the substation are the breakers. These devices monitor power conditions and, in cycle time, disconnect the source to protect the downstream feeders from any potential damage caused by overload or short circuit conditions. Understanding the health of these devices is vital to managing overall grid reliability and resiliency.
Circuit breaker measurement data tell an important story providing insights both from a power quality and from an asset performance perspective. Initially, SCE required personnel with special laptops to capture the stored waveform data. Permanent recorders called On-line Monitors (OLM) installed on each breaker made data more accessible. Though this improved the process once on-site, SCE faced a difficult barrier – getting the breaker data to assess the situation and take action, when necessary, was a manual, time-consuming process.
With the large fleet of circuit breaker assets managed throughout 800 distribution substations in their territory, SCE identified three key focus areas for improving the OLM-based data collection/analysis process:
- Reallocate Personnel Time – The monitoring and data collection was completely local and remained labor intensive driving up critical resource bandwidth.
- Reduce Maintenance Cost – The time-based breaker management approach meant costs associated with either unnecessary or very work-intensive visits.
- Optimize Asset Performance – The existing strategy meant analyzing past snapshots in time as opposed to proactively determining the right actions to take at the right time.
With these focus areas in mind, SCE recognized the need to change the status quo was vital to unlocking the identified process improvements. To address the existing gap with minimal re-work, SCE chose to implement the Elpis Flex Controller – a flexible, intelligent computing platform designed and built from the ground-up to manage assets in a distributed model and quickly move scattered data from raw to decision-ready.
Installed within the mechanical room of the substation, SCE leverages the Flex Controller for downstream and upstream communications providing a critical link between the local OLM breaker monitor and the central system for engineering analysis. Thus, when a waveform capture is completed today, the information is automatically pushed to the Flex Controller and made immediately ready for analysis and action.
Built within an open and scalable architecture that integrates with back-office systems, the Flex Controller gives SCE the power of local visibility, control and optimization at their fingertips. SCE now can prioritize and set the pace of implementing functionalities as a simplified “Circuit Breaker Analysis” application based on key business and technical needs. Initially placing the focus on reducing personnel and maintenance costs, the Flex Controller connection to the OLM meant that any data collected by the OLM passed immediately to the central system – eliminating the process of data collection locally, site by site. To optimize further, SCE has their sights set on automating the analysis process itself.
The capabilities of the Flex Controller and this application only begin with the automated pass-through of critical asset data. Once available within the central system, a thorough engineering analysis remains necessary to determine what, if any, actions must be taken to ensure strong asset performance while extending lifetime. With time of the essence to make key decisions around optimizing asset performance, the Flex Controller enables the Circuit Breaker Analysis application to expand into generating advanced analytics on the fly.
Integrated natively within the Elpis Re|GridTM ecosystem, SCE has the ability with the Flex Controller to proactively analyze data collected in real-time and recommend actions to best maintain breakers automatically without waiting for the manual “eye test” analysis. With built-in machine learning algorithms, the Flex Controller completes the “Capture, Analyze, Alert” cycle, learning from past events and identifying potential issues prior to being noticed by the naked eye.
Today, utilities are undergoing a transformational shift driving the need to rethink operational strategies. Distribution circuit breakers within the substation, however, remain one of the most vital pieces of equipment necessary for overall grid protection. SCE identified these challenges and the key focus areas to support a proactive digital transformation. The Elpis Flex Controller established the path for SCE with simplified circuit breaker analysis – cutting down on manual processes introducing automation, streamlining costs through proactive maintenance, and extending asset life through better performance management.