Metering Technology Boosts Efficiency
Until recently, all monitoring done at Alpena Power, Alpena, Mich., was done manually. "We had to physically go out to our 22 substations and take readings on meters, then record those readings in hard copy," says Edmund R. Ludwiczak, line department administrator. Someone would then have to consolidate those documents to get a rough idea of where the investor-owned utility's power was go...
Until recently, all monitoring done at Alpena Power, Alpena, Mich., was done manually. "We had to physically go out to our 22 substations and take readings on meters, then record those readings in hard copy," says Edmund R. Ludwiczak, line department administrator. Someone would then have to consolidate those documents to get a rough idea of where the investor-owned utility's power was going—where it was being bought and sold—and what condition the power was in.
The process was laborious, costly and inefficient. Real-time data was not available: "The low-level sophistication of the old mechanical-style metering in the substation allowed for neither power-quality measurement nor any loading measurement," explains Ludwiczak. "Thermal demand measures were especially rough. We knew we had a demand of X, but we didn't know when the demand was generated—and if there were three or four circuits in a substation, we didn't know whether the demand was coincidental or occurred at different times. We would assume that the demand was coincidental, but without a good way to measure and monitor, we could be buying and replacing equipment before it was needed."
Alpena obtained remote, real-time access to power data with the application of new metering technology. "We wanted to see what [it] delivered, and so we began by testing it on our interconnect substation," Ludwiczak says. The beta test monitored five major circuits. Results have been so positive that Alpena has now begun a five-year initiative whereby power metering will be installed in all of its substations. "Our short-term communications solution has been to use phone dial-up, but long-term plans are for fiber links so that we can be in live contact with all of our systems simultaneously," he says.
Energy costs at Alpena are relatively stable, but summertime demand can drive them "a little out of hand." The power monitoring system has proved beneficial in managing this situation, says Ludwiczak. During certain times of the year, Alpena's demand is limited by supplier contracts. In other words, if there's a power problem in the state of Michigan, Alpena can be held to a maximum demand.
"If we get into a tough situation," Ludwiczak continues, "the digital power meters give us a constant read, so we can monitor our purchase of power on an instantaneous basis, making sure we stay below our allotted contractual amount. This real-time access to data allows us to use our resources more efficiently, eliminating waste that could be costly or debilitating."
Another benefit of the system is better power-outage management: "We use the meters to monitor power quality and breaker status, so we can access the meters—which are backed up by uninterruptible-power systems—to determine what circuits are in trouble," says Ludwiczak. "This allows us to get at the problems faster, resolve them more quickly and keep our customers better satisfied."
Metering has been a revolutionary development for Alpena Power. Company personnel have already been able to flag problems that they didn't know existed such as harmonics problems and problems associated with voltage fluctuation, both of which Alpena can now measure with exactness—and resolve more effectively.
From Pure Power, Summer 2001.