EPB plans work on smart grid in Chattanooga

photo James Parker , left, and David Handley install an IntelliRupter as part of the Smart Grid system Friday on 11th Street.

BY THE NUMBERS• Installed intellirupters -- 1,100• Installed smart meters -- 110,000• Intellirupters yet to be installed -- 67• Planned smart meter installation -- 170,000• Other automated breakers yet to be installed -- 300• Total project completion -- End of 2012• Installation of last intellirupter -- April 24Source: EPB

EPB is moving toward the installation of its final intellirupter, a key component in the city's smart grid.

The devices act like switches on a railroad track, automatically re-routing power when they detect an outage. That way, a fallen tree only takes out power on a single street, not an entire neighborhood.

PB's smart grid provides the utility with the type of automation "typically reserved for service areas with 2 million people or more," said Jim Glass, manager of smart grid development for EPB.

Spaced about 140 meters apart, technicians in the control room can pinpoint the location of an outage, cutting down on the need for line inspectors.

"Nobody has applied them in the numbers we've applied them," said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB.

Engineers have so far installed more than 1,100 of the so-called "smart switches," and more than 110,000 smart meters, which send data directly to the utility without requiring a meter reader.

The tornado that took out power for 3,470 EPB customers on March 2 would have turned the lights out for double that number without the high-tech devices, DePriest said.

Of the original $226 million project, only $19.5 million is left to go, leaving 67 intellirupters to install, he said.

But the long term savings for EPB and its customers nearly equals the amount lost during storms, board members said.

The reduced outage time could save city businesses about $40 million to $45 million in the course of a year, and save EPB between $6 million and $7 million in costs, DePriest estimated.

"Last year we saved about 5 million customers minutes, with about half of the switches installed and about half of those set up to be automatic," he said.

The next step, once all 170,000 smart meters and 1,500 automation points are installed, is to figure out how to use the data.

Already, Alcatel-Lucent and Bell Labs are working to develop software and services that will turn the streams of data from users' smart meters into a grid management system.

"Nobody has ever taken real-time data and used it to operate their system," DePriest said. "We have lots of people who would like to play with that."

Some customers have previously raised privacy concerns related to the smart meters, but DePriest said there would be no identifying information available to anyone.

"With this much data, they can make some pretty valid contributions to the idea of energy effeciency," he said.

For the utility, the data could allow them to fix problems faster, be more effecient and reduce the size of other costly equipment. It could also allow EPB to license out the technology in exchange for other, useful technologies, said Joe Ferguson, chairman of the EPB board.

"I think sharing that sophisticated system is something we should do, but we should also be looking at proprietary rights," Ferguson said. "We know we have something no one else has."

The utility plans to celebrate the installation of the final intellirupter at a ceremony on April 24 at 10 a.m.

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