Article
As the power requirements for our connected world grow at an increasingly faster pace, a more reliable means of generating and monitoring that power is a necessity. Old systems need upgrading or retrofitting to keep up with the demand.

Moving Toward a Greener, Safer, More Reliable Power Grid

Steve Maurer, IME
As the power requirements for our connected world grow at an increasingly faster pace, a more reliable means of generating and monitoring that power is a necessity. Old systems need upgrading or retrofitting to keep up with the demand.

New systems must be designed and built with future needs taken into consideration. The need for power to satisfy increasing power consumption is here to stay. And that power means a better method of monitoring and controlling that power is vital to reliability and safety.

It's no secret that our aging power grid is becoming increasingly unstable and unreliable. Old style analog system monitoring is a dinosaur from the past, one that will eventually bite us, taking a big chunk out of our grid.

Watch any of the late-night commercials promoting home emergency generators, and you see how prevalent the fear of power failure has become.

From power generation at the plant level to distribution to the end user, monitoring and maintaining the grid is a complex and everchanging operation. Substations are the link between generation and the consumer.

Accepting incoming voltages, these critical stations regulate the power going to the next step in the grid, either stepping up or stepping down the voltage through a series of transformers and switches.

Analog monitoring and control of these voltages is increasingly difficult and unreliable. In order to maximize efficiency and worker safety, digital control of these substations is becoming more of the norm in power grids across the world. In monitoring operations, fiber is replacing copper conductors and digital sensors take the place of analog CTs and other monitoring equipment.

Without going into a lot of detail, the system works somewhat like this. In close proximity to switchgear, circuit breakers, and transformers, monitoring devices connect to the various components, continuously scrutinizing their operation.

The data collected travels along fiber optic cables to the control and monitoring station. Using advance computer systems, the substation operator has direct access to this data, used for making preventive maintenance decisions and power redirection. It allows the operator to monitor and control high power operations more safely and efficiently.

In fact, the human factor can be take out of the equation in many cases, replaced by algorithms and more advanced computerized programing. While the human operator will always be necessary, software and data driven processes are able to make split-second decisions, keeping the grid functioning.

And because fiber optic cables handle massive amounts of digital data, retrofitting and future upgrades to the monitoring and control system are easily managed, with a minimum of disruption.

From monitoring to testing, and even to decision making, digital protection and control is an increasingly popular option … maybe even a necessity.

It helps maintain a safer, more efficient, and more reliable power grid for the world's ravenous appetite for electrical power.
Photo courtesy of ABB
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