Electricity is so integral to our daily lives that being without it, even if only briefly, can have big ramifications. That is why we continue to make service reliability a top priority.
Last month, I introduced the Exacter technology we are now using. This technology allows our crews to scan powerlines and electrical equipment, pinpointing areas of potential failure. Our early experiences in identifying equipment in a pre-failure state has shown the tremendous value of the Exacter technology.
For instance, the technology identified a particular oil circuit reclosure (OCR) in a distribution substation. When opened, our crew discovered black, burned oil. It is not supposed to be like that. The discolored oil indicates exposure to high internal temperatures. In short, this OCR was about to fail. The Exacter technology produced the results we anticipated.
OCRs are important in the smooth operation of our electric grid. You can think of them as being like an automatic circuit breaker. They are in place to react if a sudden short circuit occurs. Maybe a tree branch has fallen and brushed through the powerline. The OCR recognizes a fault, shuts off the flow of electricity momentarily, and then will reconnect power if the fault no longer remains. An OCR will attempt to reconnect power three times; if the fault has not cleared itself, the electrical flow will be stopped. OCRs section off portions of a line circuit and keep a much larger area of electrical grid from going down. Have you ever noticed a momentary “blink” in your power? It is the OCR functioning in the way it is intended.
Exacter technology puts Lake Region in a mode of prevention rather than reaction. Identifying trouble spots before they become major fails also improves safety for our linemen. Power outages can, and will, occur from time to time. After all, our 5,808 miles of distribution line are subject to all sorts of weather, birds and animals, accidents, and so forth. Our goal, however, is to minimize the potential for outages stemming from failure of the cooperative’s equipment.
Combined with the technology I have just described is our use of data analytics as a component of the cooperative’s reliability strategy. We have identified and mapped the 10 areas of greatest concern on our distribution system. Linemen have been assigned to each area to study the line and equipment, looking for possible root causes to outages. This intensive effort is in addition to our normal line maintenance programs. You can learn more about this technology by viewing the Exacter video on our website.
Great Success with Schuster Lake Transmission Substation
In November 2019, wholesale power supplier Great River Energy (GRE) energized the new Schuster Lake Transmission Substation. The $6.8 million substation was erected northwest of Perham and transmits electricity to four distribution substations. This new substation has greatly increased service reliability to the more than 5,000 Lake Region members served from the Frazee, Dora, Dent, and Perham distribution substations. Since Schuster Lake was energized, transmission related outages have reduced from an average of 6.5 per year to zero. This equates to 32,682 fewer consumer outages. It is a huge, and much needed, asset to the electric grid.