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by Share Brandt


The Great Outage Detective

In keeping with their tradition of innovation, electric co-ops are working hard to introduce new technologies that will increase service reliability, decrease outage time, and improve safety for line crews and the public.

One of the major areas where advancements are taking place involves down-line automation. An umbrella term describing the use of digital meters and equipment, software applications, and two-way communications, down-line automation allows your electric cooperative to effectively monitor the flow of electricity in near real-time; identify voltages out of allowed ranges; pinpoint outages; and transmit signals to transformers, capacitors, circuit breakers, and other devices to initiate diagnostic or corrective actions that can isolate, reroute power around, or even remotely repair the cause of a power interruption.

Decreasing Numbers, Duration

With down-line automation, co-ops can decrease the number of members who lose power and the duration of an outage as well as reduce “line losses”—electricity that dissipates in the process of distributing it over power lines. This saves your co-op (and you) money by not having to buy electricity that doesn’t get used.

One of the most promising advances in down-line automation, distribution fault analysis (DFA), taps high-resolution monitors installed on electric lines and cutting-edge algorithms to zero in on hard-to-find electric system trouble spots before they morph into full-blown outages. In its purest form, DFA “reads and identifies” specific fault signatures in a waveform—such as a cracked insulator or a tree limb occasionally brushing a line and causing a blink. Instead of learning about an event—like an outage—after it happens, co-ops can fix a potential problem ahead of time.

It may surprise some folks that electric co-ops have emerged as leaders in the down-line automation field. But innovation is a key part our cooperative DNA. It embodies the same spirit that drove rural residents to find ways to overcome seemingly insurmountable technical, engineering, legal, political, and financial hurdles and bring central station electric service to all corners of America.

Mission Central

Our not-for-profit, consumer-oriented business structure ensures all decisions―technology-based or otherwise―focus on our core mission: providing members with a safe, reliable, and affordable supply of power. As the cooperative prepares its annual work plan for areas that will need line upgrades, these new technologies are implemented in a systematic way during annual maintenance upgrades. It does take time to fully implement these technologies throughout a system and your cooperative may not have completed the entire system yet.

In sprawling, rugged service territories with densities sometimes as low as two or three consumers per mile, down-line automation can substantially lower costs by reducing truck trips. Following massive storms, the ability to target outage locations from the office and efficiently dispatch line crews can significantly speed up getting the lights back on.

Innovation—it’s proof positive, if there was any doubt before, that cooperatives build a better world. —Adapted from material written by Maurice Martin and Brian Sloboda, Cooperative Research Network.