How 'self-healing' technology is shortening power outages
Self-healing reroutes electricity around a problem, kind of like a traffic app reroutes you around a car wreck.
When WVXU’s Bill Rinehart first reported “self-healing” technology was helping Duke Energy shorten power outages from hours to minutes, I was intrigued.
So, I went to see the brains of the operation at a secret Tri-State location. The Distribution Control Center is a nondescript building behind layers of security. Duke employees fill a large room looking at monitors and are ready to remotely intervene after car wrecks take out utility poles or tree limbs bring down power lines.
Mike Simms is Duke’s manager of grid engineering for the Midwest.
“This is is the real-time system, so I’ll be careful with it,” he cautions, pointing to the smart switches or "reclosers" at the top of a utility pole and control boxes at the bottom of the pole. It's a system he's been helping develop for more than a decade.
In its simplest terms, smart switches reroute electricity around problems. Duke Spokeswoman Sally Thelen likens it to GPS: “Think of how you travel in your car; you might use an app like Waze or something to get you to your destination. If there’s an accident, typically you’ll be rerouted around that. That’s just how our system is working.”
This Duke video explains self-healing:
Thelen says Duke has been leading the way on smart grid technology since 2010. In the beginning, countries like Ukraine, South Korea and Malaysia were asking questions.
For 2022, Duke says the technology prevented 403,461 outages and saved 99,706,000 customer minutes. That compares to 165,000 outages saved in 2021 and 20,500,000 minutes.
Self-healing technology operated nearly 100 times during significant storms in June and July 2022. From June 13-14, more than 49,000 extended power outages were avoided, and during July 6-9 more than 30,000 were prevented.
Self-healing has gotten an upgrade with FISR-Fault Isolation Service Restoration. It has the capability to do everything automatically without Duke having to intervene. FISR also can reroute bigger areas. Simms says the brains are in the box at the bottom of the utility pole.
“We’ve got this software system called distribution management systems. That’s really the key component,” Simms says. "That’s where all the intelligence really lies for all this data that comes back in.”
As you can imagine, the technology is not cheap. Duke has spent $100 million on its Ohio grid modernization. Most of that money has come from rate payers. Simms argues it’s worth it because self-healing has saved customers hundreds of millions of minutes since 2010.