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Smart Grid Milestone for Minnesota Electric Co-Op

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July 28, 2009

Smart Grid Milestone for Minnesota Electric Co-Op

By Erin Harrison
Senior Editor
Wright Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association passed a smart grid milestone this summer, marking one year since integrating a comprehensive smart grid-enabling communications system built on a private spectrum wireless network from Arcadian Networks (News - Alert).

 
“There are many definitions of smart gird,” said Lance Hovland, vice president of energy distribution for Wright Hennepin. “For us, from a distribution side, smart grid means automation and communication of substation SCADA data plus advanced metering AMI/AMR to reach high levels of customer service.”
 
With a 700 MHz licensed wireless IP communications network connecting formerly “poor reliability” stations, Wright Hennepin now operates a fully supported communication platform for AMR and SCADA.
 
But this hasn’t always been the case. Wright Hennepin, which serves about 45,000 electric accounts across two Minnesota counties, has explored many solutions to link widely dispersed substations.
 
“We started out with all substations on a frame relay,” Hovland said. “When DSL became available, we converted most substations to that – along with some of our own 900 MHz wireless systems where we had line-of-sight. But there were a few areas where neither was possible. We looked for a better way.”
 
Hovland recalls the process: “When our generation and transmission supplier, Great River Energy, put in a private licensed 700 MHz wireless system from Arcadian Networks for all their substations, they left some base points available for the co-ops to use. We took advantage of the opportunity to try out a private network.”
 
The first substation to go online was in Medina. “It successfully brought back all SCADA and metering data,” Hovland said. “And the savings were considerable – even better than DSL pricing.”
 
The Trailhaven and Delano substations came next. “We’ve seen a huge improvement in reliability,” said Hovland. “Coverage had been spotty and some of the 900 MHz systems didn’t have the signal strength, but the Arcadian Networks system has proven reliable over the past year.”
 
Since integrating a comprehensive smart grid-enabling communications system, Hovland said efficiency overall has improved significantly.
 
“The smart-grid enabled communications system helped us more effectively manage our wholesale power costs. Real-time communications is critical, anything less can lead to inaccurate data being reported and incorrect control decisions of load management,” Hovland said in a recent interview with TMCnet.
 
In mid-2008, Wright Hennepin targeted several so-called “problem” stations, where the DSL network would bounce off and on and result in intermittent data. “We cannot afford intermittent communication outages in times of peak power usage. We watch our peaks and make load management decisions based on substation data,” said Hovland. “If we can’t follow our load, we can’t make intelligent decisions. We need high reliability communications from substations to headquarters.”
 
The trial substations using the Arcadian network have proven to be more reliable than some of the company’s DSL circuits, according to Hovland. “Therefore, we will replace unreliable DSL circuits as necessary with Arcadian. We are also considering keeping DSL lines active for back up purposes,” he said.
 
With new funding in this area being delivered by the federal government – the U.S. DOE announced $47 million for several smart grid projects last week – Hovland said that in better economic times, such projects should be able to stand on their own.
 
“When it comes to smart grid, it depends on which projects are ultimately chosen to receive funding. There are likely some very innovative projects out there that need stimulus dollars to get them off the ground to help jumpstart the economy,” he said. “It could be a positive if done correctly. With an effective cost/benefit analysis, these projects should be expected to stand on their own without funding in a more stable economy. Time will tell.” 
 

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Erin Harrison is a Senior Editor with TMC. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan
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