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Major blackouts less likely with smart-grid tech: NYISO official

By: Derek Sands |

Greater monitoring of the grid made possible by smart-grid investments funded by New York agencies and utilities and the US Department of Energy mean operators could avoid a major blackout such as the one that struck the Northeast in 2003, the head of the New York Independent System Operator said Wednesday.

Stephen Whitley, the president and CEO of the NYISO, said that as installation of new grid-monitoring equipment is finished, it will allow operators in the Eastern interconnection to take action before a large-scale failure hits the grid.

“We will have the tools to see that something is going on, take an action to stop it, that we didn’t have before,” Whitley said. NYISO manages New York state’s power grid.

“If this network would have been in place back in [2003], and the operating procedures had been in place to make use of the data coming into the control centers, they would have seen a deteriorating condition, and local action would have happened in Ohio before things got so bad that in a matter of seconds most of the entire eastern interconnection went down,” he said.

A blackout in August 2003 put 55 million people in the dark across eight US states and the Canadian province of Ontario, and is estimated to have had between $4 billion and $10 billion in economic impacts. The blackout stemmed from grid failures in Ohio that cascaded throughout the Northeast.

Whitley made the comments during a press briefing in New York City with state utility officials, as well as Patricia Hoffman, DOE’s assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability. In that role, Hoffman has overseen $3.5 billion in DOE smart-grid investments under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. About $260 million of that went to smart grid projects in New York state.

Among those investments was the installation of 420 so-called “phasor measurement units” across the United States, which measure the voltage and current of the electricity flowing through certain points on the grid, allowing grid operators to more accurately monitor the condition of the grid.

“The goal of the phasor measurement unit deployment is to provide wide-area visualization of the system and improved operations,” Hoffman said.

“Since the 2003 blackout, we have realized that visualization of the electric system is extremely important in improving system operations and advancing capabilities on the transmission system, as well as the distribution system,” she said.