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Duke Energy rolls out smart grid technology in advance of hurricane season

Margie Manning

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Duke Energy's distribution control center in St. Petersburg

Technology that can minimize or avoid power outages will play an increasingly important role at Duke Energy, as the company gears up for hurricane season.

Duke (NYSE: DUK), a Charlotte, North Carolina energy company that serves Pinellas and Pasco counties, showed off its smart-thinking grid technology and other investments in its power delivery system Friday morning at its distribution control center in St. Petersburg.

“Since 2004, we’ve invested more than $2 billion to strengthen our power delivery systems, and over the next 10 years we’re going to invest an additional $3.4 billion to maintain and modernize our grid,” said Peveeta Persaud, senior communications consultant for Duke.

Duke dealt with more than 1.9 million outages after Hurricane Irma blew through Florida in September 2017.

Peveeta Persaud, senior communications consultant for Duke, demonstrates the smart-thinking grid technology.

“After any hurricane or large storm event, Duke learns from the storm and is able to implement customer communications opportunities as well as operational tactics as well,” Persaud said.

For instance, the smart-thinking grid technology upends the historical method of distributing energy. Traditionally, power flowed from a substation directly to a home or business.

“The smart-thinking grid technology enables us to recognize a fault on the line and it acts almost like a GPS, where it’s able to reroute the power to customers and either minimize the outage or avoid it altogether,” Persaud said. “Last year, that technology was able to avoid 200,000 customer outages in Florida.”

The technology currently serves about 34 percent of Duke’s Florida customers. That will grow to 80 percent over the next 10 years, she said.

Duke also has begun rolling out smart meters, which provide two-way communications between a home or business and the power company. After a storm, Duke can “ping” individual meters to ensure power is on at a specific location, even if power to the surrounding neighborhood has been restored.

The smart meters also allow for remote connections and disconnections. Customers with the smart meters can pick their own billing due dates, and get detailed reports on how much power they are using and the cost of that power.

Duke began installing smart meters in Florida in November and in Pinellas County, starting in Clearwater, in April. About 16,000 meters have been installed to date, with installations continuing through 2021.

In addition, in targeted areas, those most prone to outages, Duke works with property owners to move power lines underground.

Duke has a manager who works specifically with small-to-midsize businesses, sending safety and preparedness information both before and after storms.

“One important safety tip, especially for many businesses, is generators,” Persaud said. “Many businesses have backup generators and we want to make sure they use them safely, especially as our crews are going out to restore power, making sure they are not back-feeding into the system, which can be a safety issue.’

When there’s a large outage, Duke focuses initially on restoring its own transmission system, then its distribution system.

“We work to get the largest number of customers on in the least amount of time and work outwards from there,” she said. “It’s difficult to prioritize businesses per se, but we do work with the state and local emergency operations center, who identify for us – in advance of hurricane season – critical needs, such as hospitals, lift stations and assisted living facilities, where they create a priority list for us.”

Duke Energy meteorologists are predicting slightly above-average activity this hurricane season, which begins June 1. They expect 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes and two major storms.

Click here for a list of storm preparedness tips.

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