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Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative in Florida has built a computerized self-healing network that can restore electric service to a large portion of co-op members in seconds whenever there’s an outage.
“It’s really fast; it’s a game changer,” says Trevor Touchton, manager of power technical systems at the 28,205-meter co-op based in Live Oak. “Our system usually restores a portion of the outage within 45 to 60 seconds. Normally, it would take us about 90 minutes on average.”
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Touchton says while their cutting-edge FLISR—Fault Location, Isolation and Service Restoration system—can’t prevent outages, it does greatly reduce their magnitude by automatically isolating a problem area and transferring consumers to adjacent circuits.
“This system does not keep a tree from hitting the power line,” he says. “But instead of having 1,000 people out of power, you’ll have only about half that.”
A 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Energy found that systems nationwide that use FLISRs cut their number of service interruptions by 45% and the duration of outages by 51%.
Reducing outage times can help save money for members by preventing spoiled food and shortening the amount of time that they are forced to run a generator for backup power. It also cuts down on business losses for commercial members who suffer reduced sales or manufacturing productivity during outages.
Touchton says another benefit of FLISR is that power can be switched back on remotely from the co-op’s headquarters once a fault is fixed.
“Not only does the system make our outages smaller, it can also make switching power back on much faster and more efficient,” Touchton says. “In the past, it took a guy driving around opening and closing devices a lot longer.”
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The co-op invested about $2.5 million to build the system, which Touchton says equates to a total of about $88 per meter or about $3.54 per meter per year when spread over 25 years. The system is expected to last 20 to 30 years, he says. The co-op began installing the system in 2016 and completed it in 2018.
“Just look at our reliability numbers,” Touchton says. “We dropped our SAIDI [System Average Interruption Duration Index] by about 100 minutes, down to 150 minutes from 250 or more minutes a year.”
About 26% of co-ops nationwide have deployed FLISR systems, and another 33% are planning to do so, according to a September 2021 smart grid report by the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative and the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp.
Co-ops that are considering FLISR should be sure to get their team on board before they start so line staking, construction, mapping and accounting departments are all on the same page, Touchton says. Co-ops also are going to need to install a communications network for the system to function properly.
“The biggest question from our lineworkers was, ‘Is the system going to turn the power on while I’m out there trying to fix the problem?’” he says. “They were concerned about safety. But the system doesn’t turn on the power where the problem is, it turns it on everywhere else (transferring consumers to other circuits). Once they saw it in action, they got comfortable with it. They like that there are more remotely controlled devices, sending intelligence to our control center that can inform our crews about what’s going on.”
Small and medium-size co-ops “that are brave enough to get involved can move and react with technology much faster than large co-ops,” he says.
“Three years after we deployed this technology, our entire system is getting the benefits,” Touchton says. “Larger co-ops may not be able to move as fast to implement a project as encompassing. I think technology is the great equalizer. If used correctly and with good vision, smaller co-ops can adopt innovative new tools quickly and effectively.”
Does your small or medium-sized co-op have an innovative program or unique solution to share? Send Thinking Big ideas to Erin Kelly at email@example.com.