AEP Sustainability - Modernizing Distribution

Modernizing Distribution

As we integrate new tools and technologies into the grid, the distribution system becomes more complex and an increasingly important resource. For example, advanced planning tools help us better understand how changing energy resources will affect our distribution system so that we can adapt or change course. We are also coordinating with transmission planning to understand how the changes in distribution affect the transmission grid.

Smart Metering

AMI, or smart metering, is a foundational technology of the modern power grid.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), or smart metering, is a foundational technology of the modern power grid that enables other technologies, including integration of distributed energy resources (DERs). With AMI meters, customers have access to both historical and real-time usage data. This gives them more knowledge of their energy consumption and helps them identify ways to save money through more efficient energy use.

AMI meters also continuously capture data across many metrics, including energy usage, voltage and temperature. These data points enable a wide range of customer engagement programs, as well as other service enhancements. This includes quickly initiating or reconnecting service remotely, sharing energy use habits with customers, and accurately billing customers’ electricity usage every month. AMI meters also provide significant savings and improve worker safety across our service territories because it reduces or eliminates fieldwork. Through year-end 2019, AEP deployed over 3.15 million AMI meters, equipping a total of 56% of our electric customers with a smart meter. We have plans to deploy an additional 1.4 million over the next several years.

Distribution Automation Circuit Reconfiguration (DACR) is an electrical process that detects faults in line sections and can reconfigure circuits to quickly restore power to customers on another section of the circuit. Using this “self-healing” technology, we can strategically reroute electricity, reducing the number of customers affected during an outage while AEP crews make repairs. Since 2010, DACR technology has been applied to approximately 360 circuits.

Another technology we are installing is Volt/VAR Optimization (VVO). This technology automatically controls voltage levels on distribution circuits to more closely match the voltages demanded by our customers. Using VVO helps both the distribution system and our customers achieve greater energy efficiency while ensuring the same customer experience. In addition, the technology helps the power grid balance the capacity coming from DERs, improving grid adaptability. Since 2010, VVO technology has been applied to more than 260 circuits.

As we continue to digitize our substations and other grid components to be compatible with new technologies such as DACR, we are also shortening the lengths of circuits on our system. By reducing the number of AEP customers exposed on a single circuit, we can lessen the impact of outages on the grid when they occur.

Network disruptions can happen at any time of the day or night. For this reason, our experts must be available quickly to identify and resolve issues whenever they occur. Our Smart Grid Command Center in Ohio offers 24/7 service monitoring for our entire network communications between AMI, DACR, VVO and underground network vaults.

What does this mean for our customers? More reliable service through faster identification and resolution of issues. If a router fails on a utility pole in Texas, the first to know about it will be our Smart Grid Command Center. The Command Center will identify the problem and resolve it remotely, if possible, or dispatch a local work crew to the site to make the repair.

Underground Network (UGN) monitoring changes the way we collect, communicate and use information and data to support the Operations, Engineering, and Planning functions of our critical UGN systems.

With sensors and state-of-the-art telecom technology, we can see the underground system as we never have before, allowing us to proactively manage the system. The insights we get from this real-time monitoring also provides line crews more information about the facilities before they enter and as they prepare to perform their work, making it a safer work environment. Having this data supports our ability to predict and prevent failures.

In 2019, SWEPCo completed a five-year, $15 million Underground Network Risk Mitigation project to improve the underground electric network in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana. This project comes on the heels of AEP completing a multiyear, $84 million initiative across our operating companies to modernize and reinforce our underground electrical networks.