One of the questions Martin Rosenberg asked at the beginning of Thursday's panel discussion at Gridweek is if smart grids are so smart, why did the blackout in the Southwest that left millions withour power happen ?
Alabama Power, which won a GridWeek Leadership Award last week at the Gridweek conference in Washington DC, provided a very interesting answer. Alabama Power has deployed about 1.4 million smart meters in its operating territory. One of the initiatives they have undertaken to take advantage of their smart meters is to integrate their automated meter infrastructure (AMI) system with their outage management system (OMS). The smart meters give them immediate information about whether what appears to be an outage is due to the electric network or a customer problem. The integrated AMI/OMS system has helped in reducing unnecessary truck rolls.
April 27th thirty tornados (there is an incredible video of a huge tornado moving through Tuscaloosa where you can see even flashes as power fuses go) hit Alabama Power's operating area completely destroying two substations, flattening transmission pylons, breaking 7500 poles, and leaving 400,000 cutomers without power. The 3.3 GW Browns Ferry nuclear power plant, which has three reactors similar in design to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, also lost power and had to shut down its reactors and use backup generators for cooling.
By looking for smart meters that were read the day before and comparing them with the meters that could not be read after the tornados, Alabama Power was able to put together a detailed picture (see photo, and yes it uses Google Maps) of where power has been lost, without making telephone calls. The application could also tell emergency response officials whether the power was on or off in specific buildings - critical information that first responders require before entering a damaged building. In addition, they could also track power restoration trends as customers started coming back on-line.
The answer to the question at the beginning of this post is that smart grid may not be able to prevent an outage caused by this type of event, but it can help get power restored faster and more safely.