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Edison expects fewer outages with circuit

Times Staff Writer

Southern California Edison is plugging 1,400 San Bernardino-area residents and businesses into what the company calls the electrical circuit of the future.

The new digital circuit was designed primarily to help avoid and contain outages. That’s a task beyond the capabilities of the more rudimentary circuits that have been used on electrical grids for decades and act much like household circuits.

The first-of-its-kind circuit, which Edison researchers developed, has been undergoing tests for several weeks and officially comes online today. It is considered an important step in the utility’s multiyear move to a high-tech power grid loaded with two-way communication capabilities, advanced household meters and sensors that monitor performance and measure such things as temperature and voltage fluctuations.

“What it means is very large increases in reliability,” said John Bryson, chairman and chief executive of Rosemead-based Edison International, which owns the electric utility. “When we get into these heat periods -- and the last two summers have had severe cases of heat storms -- this should meaningfully reduce the number of outages and the duration of outages.”

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Most of the power outages that occurred in July 2006 and over this year’s Labor Day weekend heat wave were caused by overstressed transformers and other distribution equipment, Bryson said. The new circuits could recognize a potential problem before it happens, triggering an automated response that could avert an outage or reduce its effect by isolating the trouble to as few as 300 customers.

“The heart of the challenge here is that electricity moves at the speed of light. But all the traditional means of monitoring and reacting to stresses, and limiting the effects of stresses, have been with systems that don’t move at the speed of light,” Bryson said.

Edison, which last year weathered the highest peak-electricity demand in the state, has 4,200 distribution circuits in its Central, coastal and Southern California territory. Except for the new one, they are all electromechanical devices that can’t isolate small problems to avoid shutting down power to at least half of the 1,500 homes and businesses attached to each circuit.

The company said it would use the San Bernardino-area circuit to test improvements and equipment, then apply the best features to the rest of its system.

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elizabeth.douglass@latimes.com


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