Smart grid illuminates New York's underground

New York's Con Edison is a dichotomy of new and old: The roots of its massive urban infrastructure can be dated back to Thomas Edison, but it's also on the forefront of smart grid technology.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor

New York's Con Edison is a dichotomy of new and old: The roots of its massive urban infrastructure can be dated back to an electric company bootstrapped by Thomas Edison, and it is also on the forefront of smart grid technology.

Con Edison is one of the largest public Utilities in the United States, powering New York City and Westchester County, New York. It began distributing electricity in 1882 via the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York.

Edison's company initially served just 59 customers in Lower Manhattan; ConEd now has greater 3 million customers. Power is delivered underground, and the grid's infrastructure is serviced through 264,326 different manholes, according to ConEd.

How does ConEd know when something needs to be repaired (beyond knowing that the lights have gone out)? The utility has begun to retrofit some of its infrastructure with smart grid technologies, including intelligent switches, to help it monitor – and even isolate – problems that may occur deep underneath city streets.

It began with a self-funded pilot project in the borough of Queens in August 2009 to test new smart grid communications technologies including switches and systems that aggregate and organize information for operational and planning decisions.

"This is unique to underground systems," said ConEd spokesperson Sara Banda. "Outside of New York they focus on technologies such as smart meters." While it also has utilized smart meters to forecast customer demand, ConEd is now focusing on improving service reliably.

The pilot is enabling ConEd to see how easily it can isolate a problem area, Banda explained.

Further smart grid projects are being undertaken courtesy of US$181M in federal funding rewarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The bulk of those funds ($136M) are being used to deploy intelligent grid systems throughout ConEd's service area, Banda said.

The remainder is being allocated toward testing systems to provide real-time analysis of grid conditions in the control rooms, how to intelligently support electric vehicles, and how to bring renewable energy sources that may be generated by customers back into the grid, she added.

Smart Grid information will be aggregated and organized in control rooms to help the utility make operational and planning decisions. IMage is courtesy of Con Edison.

The tests will take place over a three-year period until federal funding has been exhausted.

"We are positioning for our next generation infrastructure," Banda said. There will not be a comprehensive smart grid in New York over night, she noted. ConEd could not provide a timetable for the grid's completion nor an estimate of what the total cost will be.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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