Florida Power and Light's smart grid success story

In the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy nearly a year ago, the power industry has recognized and communicated to stakeholders that critical infrastructure cannot be completely protected from physical damage during such extreme events. Instead, the industry is pursuing the twin paths of vigorous preparation and rapid recovery.

Fortunately, improving reliability and resiliency in preparation for natural disasters also serves a utility well under ordinary circumstances.

Every utility will accomplish these goals differently. Some will pursue comprehensive, highly integrated suites of smart grid technologies. Others will make targeted investments with a narrower technology focus. Every utility has its own regulatory pressures, legacy systems, geographic circumstances and reliability and resiliency issues -- and the business case must pencil out and gain regulatory approval.

The holistic approach

For the holistic, comprehensive approach, I'd like to call attention to work performed by Juno Beach-based utility Florida Power & Light (FPL), which has done a remarkable job in integrating the five components of a comprehensive smart grid solution to improve reliability and resiliency. A key driver was southern Florida's location in Hurricane Alley, a region in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico that breeds hurricanes and routinely takes the brunt of their devastation.

FPL now has a highly automated, sensor-rich distribution system that extends from smart meters on customers' premises all the way up to a distribution performance and diagnostic center in Jupiter, Fla., which anticipates power issues, monitors performance and responds automatically to impending or actual outages and other power quality issues. Improvements in estimated time of restoration and communicating that data to stakeholders completes the loop.

This isn't an overnight sensation. FPL has focused on distribution reliability and resiliency for two decades, culminating in a four-year program known as Energy Smart Florida. The program reached fruition this year with 4.5 million smart meters and related advanced metering infrastructure installed, 145 substations upgraded with automation and 10,000 intelligent electronic devices spread across 80 percent of FPL's vast service territory in 35 Florida counties. (Ninety percent of FPL's customers live within 20 miles of the coasts, thus increasing their vulnerability to storms.)

Florida's great motivator

As technology for reliability and resiliency began to accelerate two decades ago, FPL began to develop its thinking about solutions. Nature proved to be a great motivator.

Hurricane Andrew struck southern Florida in August 1992 with 170-mile-per-hour winds, affecting 1.4 million people, roughly a third of FPL's customer base. Full restoration required 31 days. FPL got a sharp reminder of the urgency of its mission in 2004 and 2005, when it experienced three major storms in roughly five weeks, including Hurricane Wilma, which affected 3.2 million of its customers.

By then, the maturity of smart grid technologies and systems presented some solutions for FPL's challenges. In 2009, federal stimulus grants to upgrade our aging power infrastructure enabled FPL to act on its plans. With a $200 million stimulus grant and $600 million of its own funds, the utility implemented "Energy Smart Florida."

The program involved installing and integrating advanced metering infrastructure, an outage management system and a distribution management system. FPL integrated a geographic information system to provide its network model, which resides in its outage management system. Further, FPL installed 10,000 intelligent electronic devices from its substations downstream along its feeders, because the success of a holistic, integrated system such as this -- with a highly sectionalized distribution network, automated switching and extensive controls -- relies on current field data and lots of it.

Additionally, FPL expects to invest approximately half a billion dollars over the next three years to improve the overall resiliency of the electric system. The plan builds on the company's industry-leading storm hardening initiative by incorporating lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, such as those related to flooding, as well as from Florida storm activity in 2012.

These recent experiences show that electric infrastructure that has been strengthened performs better in preventing some storm-related outages, speeding restoration times following severe weather and delivering better overall everyday reliability.

FPL's investments have achieved value beyond the sum of the individual technologies involved and will pay off the next time disaster strikes while also delivering operational efficiencies year round.

This article originally appeared at Smart Grid News. Florida Power & Light distribution performance and diagnostic center image screengrabbed from an FPL smart grid video.