If you thought you’ve been seeing a lot of utility trucks and linemen working in Alamance County lately, you have.
Duke Energy crews will be working in Alamance County over the next several months, in advance of the upcoming spring and summer storm season, to upgrade lines and equipment in order to make it easier restore power faster after an outage – and, the company hopes, prevent some outages before they happen.
“We are making grid improvements that are helping to improve reliability of service on our electrical system in the area,” Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said Tuesday afternoon in an interview with The Alamance News.
“We are targeting completing this work [in Alamance County] around summer,” Brooks said. The utility company hopes to finish much of the upgrades before the annual Atlantic hurricane season, which officially starts June 1 and ends November 30, ramps up in late August.
The purpose for the grid improvements is to improve reliability, avoid outages, and restore power faster, Brooks said Tuesday.
Duke Energy crews are “putting self-healing technology” that has the capability to automatically detect a power outage and quickly reroute power to other lines to restore service faster, Brooks explained.
Brooks likened the self-healing technology to GPS technology that alerts drivers to roadway accidents in real-time and directs them to a different route. “[It’s] like if GPS tells you an accident is ahead, it directs you to a side street and gets you back on your way,” he said.
“The technology doesn’t eliminate an outage, so if a tree falls on a line, it still has to be repaired by a utility crew, but it reduces the number of customers who are impacted by an outage.”
The self-healing technology that Duke Energy is adding to its lines and equipment in Alamance County and across the state has the capability to reduce the number of customers who are affected by an outage, and in some cases, “can restore power in less than a minute,” sometimes even a few seconds, Brooks said, adding, “in most of my experience, it’s seconds.”
“We are deploying this all across our service area, on our main distribution lines,” the spokesman said in the interview. “Right now we serve around 25 percent of customers with some form of self-healing technology; our goal is to serve 80 percent of customers with this form of technology.”
Duke crews working in Alamance County will be adding equipment to poles, Brooks explained. “In some cases, they even have to build new lines in order to reroute power. [We’re] upgrading about half a mile of power lines in Alamance County.”
[Story continues below collage of photos of utility work in and around Graham.]
UP IN THE AIR TO REPAIR, IMPROVE POWER LINES
Duke Energy estimates that it will take several years to upgrade its lines and equipment across the state, Brooks said this week. “The goal is to improve reliability,” he said. “It’s really a great tool for a lot of situations. It allows for the two-way flow of power that’s needed to expand clean energy, as well. With people installing rooftop solar, expansion of electric vehicles, power is needed in all directions. It is foundational to our grid improvement strategy in the years ahead.”
Duke Energy used “advanced analytics” to determine locations on the grid where improvements are needed most. “We placing some portions of lines underground where we’ve seen lots of outages in the past,” Brooks said, noting that vegetation management, through planned tree trimming and removal, is also crucial to keeping the lights on.
Duke Energy officials have long said that trees and other vegetation encroaching on power lines is a leading cause of outages, an issue that Brooks also pointed to Tuesday.
Duke Energy officials came under fire late last year, after a series of “controlled” outages left thousands of North Carolinians shivering in temperatures that dipped to 5 degrees Fahrenheit throughout much of the state early Christmas Eve morning. Gov. Roy Cooper said in subsequent press release that the number of outages reported statewide had peaked at more than 485,000 on December 24.
Duke Energy is also in the process of modernizing its electrical grid, Brooks told the newspaper.
The utility provider says that the forthcoming “smart-thinking grid” that’s currently being built will provide voltage optimization to reduce momentary interruptions and increase efficiency; will be equipped with remote sensors to monitor essential systems and identify where proactive maintenance is needed before an outage occurs; and shorten repair times, among other capabilities.
The improvements that are currently underway locally are estimated to “benefit about 5,000 customers in the Graham area,” Brooks told the newspaper Wednesday.