Op-Ed

FPL’s ‘smart grid’ enabled quick power restoration after Hurricane Matthew

So-called “smart meters” display electricity usage and connect to the utility company in a real time way.
So-called “smart meters” display electricity usage and connect to the utility company in a real time way. ASSOCIATED PRESS

FPL’s smart grid helped in the quick recovery from Hurricane Matthew.

Most Americans, including those in South Florida, are largely unaware of the phenomenal transformation of the U.S. electrical grid under way. They should know about it. It will alter their lives for the good.

Known as the “smart grid,” it has spread and taken hold of our everyday lives via the installation of advanced electrical meters in our homes, and it recently helped FPL quickly restore electricity to those left powerless by Hurricane Matthew.

Like the introduction of all major new technology, many at first were reluctant to accept these new, state-of-the-art meters at their homes, citing electrical safety and personal security concerns.

Fortunately, these concerns have been largely resolved, and now utilities, like FPL, are forging ahead with implementing applications and programs that will improve their own company operations and finances, as well as those of the customers they serve.

Here’s how it used to work: Legacy meters operated on a one-way communication protocol from a home or a business, back to the utility company.

Today, advanced meters allow for a two-way communication pattern that lets utilities to pinpoint or prevent outages by constantly monitoring intelligent devices and sensors along the route in real time. Most often, any interruptions can be detected and corrected at the utility without the need for a truck to roll out for repairs. And these corrections are made in minutes as opposed to hours. That’s a huge saving in time and workforce for the utility and subsequently, customers.

The benefits of this smart grid were demonstrated for the first time when FPL’s smart-grid architecture prevented more than 55,000 outages caused by Hurricane Matthew, and the company restored power to more than 70 percent of 1.2 million customers within 24-hours of the storms passing.

The smart grid allows customers to be updated by text or phone on the cause and restoration time once their power goes out.

In addition, they can monitor their own use of electricity in real time and adjust the workings of their household via smart appliances and thermostats to reduce their utility bills and preserve energy for the utility.

Florida is one of the states mandated to reduce the use of emission-producing sources, and the smart grid will allow for the infusion and management of renewable energy resources such as solar and wind. Customers that produce and store their own solar energy will, in most cases, be able to sell the energy they don’t use back to their utility.

When in comes to all things smart grid, FPL is one of the first in the nation to complete its entire smart-grid modernization project, largely with the help of a $200 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The company has invested more than $2 billion since 2006 to build a resilient energy grid and has installed more than 4.8 million advanced meters and more than 10,000 intelligent devices across its territory. These investments have paid off as FPL’s service reliability is better than 99.98 percent.

It is also one of an elite number of utilities to expand its capabilities towards creating “Smart Cities.”

In late 2014, FPL entered into an agreement with S&C Electric to have “reclosers” installed across thousands of neighborhood power lines to reduce momentary outages for its 4.7 million customers. An added bonus for South Florida is that a part of the agreement calls for S&C to invest $3 million to open a new manufacturing facility in Palm Beach County,which will create 170 new jobs.

FPL also has one of the largest smart street lighting projects in the world. With 75,000 networked and energy efficient LED lights already installed, the utility will ultimately have almost 500,000 street lights installed. The adaptive lighting enables the utility to brighten the lights when needed while keeping them dim at other times. The ability to monitor and control each street light remotely will allow the utility to achieve a 30 percent decrease in energy use as well as a significant decrease in maintenance and operations costs.

FPL’s smart grid work and the future of this technology will be debated by stakeholders at Zpryme's annual Energy Thought Summit (ETS17) March 27-30, 2017 in Austin, Texas.

The smart grid is already changing Floridians’ lives.

Paula Smith is a senior research analyst at Zpryme, an Austin-based research, media and events agency focused on the energy industry.

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