Grid Reliability & Resilience
Having a modern, reliable, resilient and secure grid is critical to our clean energy transformation. From 2021 through 2025, we plan to invest approximately $27 billion on transmission and distribution infrastructure to expand, strengthen and modernize our network. Our investments to strengthen the reliability and resiliency of the grid supports our generation transformation and future forward strategy to a clean energy future.
Together with investments to integrate renewable and distributed resources, we’re leveraging data analytics to proactively address reliability and security risks. We’re preparing for the convergence of the electric, communications and transportation industries by modernizing the grid to meet our communities’ social and economic needs. We are providing customers with access to reliable, affordable and cleaner energy options and opening access to broadband opportunities in underserved areas.
Our network of 260,000 miles of distribution and transmission lines presents the challenge of ongoing maintenance and upkeep, which is undiminished as we pursue modernization. While our transmission and distribution system is built to last, equipment naturally wears over time, which can increase the risk of failure, outages and efficiency loss. To meet reliable system expectations and create the optimal customer experience, we continue to invest in maintenance and upgrades.
Our transmission strategy focuses on ensuring the grid’s reliability, security and efficiency for our customers. Our strategy includes a diverse five-year capital investment portfolio of $16 billion across 15 states and four regional energy markets – delivering significant customer benefits. Benefits include: higher reliability and resilience; lower energy costs; enabling public policies; customer demand for clean energy; and economic development.
We are also investing in transmission infrastructure to reduce outages and interruption times. We estimate capital investments of $2.2 billion annually to replace and enhance all assets beyond life expectancy over the next 10 years. We determine renewal projects based on performance, condition and risk.
We leverage data analytics and digital technology to reduce system failures, increase safety, improve grid reliability and minimize risks. For example, AEP’s Asset Health Center (AHC) uses operational and predictive data as an indicator for proactive system maintenance and equipment replacement needs. We minimize risk by identifying safety issues in real time and by prioritizing urgent needs to maintain a robust grid.
We are also leveraging the benefits of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to capture real-time intelligence about assets and locations. This analysis and insight allows us to view data in an intuitive new way. Location is the common thread connecting all of our data into a single view, enabling us to uncover hidden constraints and opportunities, improve predictive modeling and promote safety while giving us a competitive edge. GIS allows us to rapidly deliver data from the office to the field and vice versa, making information available to those who need it when they need it.
We are planning on significant capital investments in distribution over the next five years. Our distribution investment strategy includes:
- Investments to support new services, capacity additions, base material and storm resilience and response.
- Asset renewal and reliability investments including pole, conductor, cutouts, and station transformer and breaker replacements.
- Implementation of automated technology including distribution supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), smart switches and reclosers, volt var optimization and sensors. Investments include telecommunication and system components.
- Advanced metering technology.
- AEP-owned energy storage and micro-grid projects connected at distribution voltages.
- Investment in fiber assets to provide middle-mile broadband to rural communities and for company use.
- Investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and ownership of charging stations, if allowed.
- Nuclear Investments
Nuclear energy is one of the most reliable carbon-free sources of electricity. It is a secure source that isn’t subject to weather conditions, unpredictable fuel cost fluctuations or an overdependence on foreign suppliers. AEP’s Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Bridgman, Michigan, can provide 2,288 MW of carbon-free electricity when operating at full power – enough to power 1.5 million homes.
We are committed to investing in the long-term viability of this clean energy resource. Cook’s two units originally were designed for a 40-year life, but, in 2005, the licenses were extended by 20 years to 2034 for Unit 1 and 2037 for Unit 2. Our climate analysis assumes we will extend the units’ licenses again.
In 2020, Unit 1 undertook its 29th planned refueling outage. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Unit 1 completed one of the safest and shortest outages in history. In addition to the refueling of the reactor and the performance of regular maintenance and testing work, the outage included upgrades to the main control room electrical distribution system, and inspections on the main generator. In April 2021, Unit 2 began its twenty-fifth refueling outage, which will also include inspections and upgrades.
The Cook Plant is also part of an industrywide, multiyear strategy to transform the industry and ensure the plant’s long-term capability. The strategy identifies efficiency measures, adopts best practices and applies new technology solutions that improve operations, reduce costs and drive regulatory and market change to ensure nuclear energy facilities are fully recognized for their value and don’t succumb to premature reactor retirements.
- Vegetation Management
Keeping power lines clear from vegetation is a priority for electricity reliability. It’s also an expensive and challenging task because AEP’s service territory includes some of the most rugged terrain across the nation. This makes prevention of outages and equipment failures from overgrown and/or fallen vegetation one of our biggest and most expensive challenges. In addition to maintaining what is growing inside our rights-of-way (ROW), we also evaluate the health of trees outside the ROW as part of our management process.
We manage vegetation growth immediately surrounding our power lines – within our defined easements for operational integrity – with a combination of performance-based (such as targeting low-performing circuits) and cycle-based (regularly scheduled) maintenance strategies. During the past five years, we have spent approximately $2.3 billion on vegetation management, including $569 million in 2020.
Operating companies have worked with state regulatory commissions to proactively manage vegetation in regularly scheduled maintenance cycles. We have successfully done this in Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky.
Executing an effective vegetation management program across our service area is a significant expense that has a direct effect on service reliability and customer satisfaction. We carefully manage our programs for efficiencies and savings, using a variety of tools and techniques. This includes helicopters for aerial inspections, approved herbicide applications and tree trimming.
Drone technology enables low-cost vegetation management in hard-to-reach terrain. In 2020, Southwestern Electric Power Company partnered with an herbicide application company to deploy drones to manage vegetation along a circuit in a pilot project. This improves safety for our crews, enabling them to apply the herbicide from the ground without a bucket truck and away from overhead live wires. In addition, drone spraying covers more miles faster and eliminates the need for debris removal because the limbs decay over time, which reduces the number of employees on site and eliminates other environmental hazards. Drones were also used during storm damage assessment following Hurricane Laura.
We also continuously evaluate emerging technology and incorporate artificial intelligence in our planning process to maximize efficiencies. We use augmented reality (AR) to determine right-of-way clearance for transmission siting to aid in understanding clearance, vegetation factors and the proximity of obstructions. We also use AR to educate and inform customers of work conducted near their property.
A resilient electric grid withstands high winds, powerful storms, cybersecurity threats and other disruptions that could cause customer outages. We have a long history of investing in grid reliability, resilience and security. We have more than a century of experience operating and maintaining a reliable electric system, which we call upon to make design updates, establish operational standards, increase threat awareness and adopt effective technological solutions.
We are a founder of Grid Assurance, an industry-led initiative to enable quicker recovery of the transmission grid resulting from a catastrophic event, natural or man-made. Grid Assurance’s framework models for high-impact, low-frequency events. It includes maintaining an inventory of critical spare assets for the grid, such as transformers and breakers, which can be promptly deployed. During the global pandemic, Grid Assurance provided a level of resilience with access to key transmission assets when portions of the economy slowed significantly, temporarily halting production and limiting availability of some critical equipment.
We seek innovative ways to serve the needs of specific customers who require a higher level of resilience. In June 2020, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) signed a 30-year lease with the U.S. Army for the siting of a proposed energy resilience project at Fort Sill. The project will build 36 MWs of natural gas-fired reciprocating internal combustion engine generators and 10.9 MW of photovoltaic solar energy.
In addition to providing more clean energy to the power grid and enhancing power quality and energy supply in PSO’s southwest Oklahoma service territory, the project provides critical energy resilience the Army needs to carry out its mission. It would enable the Army to disconnect the new generating facilities from the grid and isolate them to supply 100% of the power needed to sustain Fort Sill’s critical missions for at least 14 days in the event of power disruption on the grid. The project is pending approval from state regulators.