Several years ago, the MEC board committed to a major investment in our southwest Michigan electric distribution grid, incorporating a robust, two-way fiber communications infrastructure for both utility and member benefit. Our goal was to make our already smart grid even smarter so we could take advantage of existing and yet-to-come technologies to improve your service experience.
We leveraged that investment to extend a fiber internet solution to interested subscribers, and today have more than 6200 members using our internet, phone and video services. And while fiber internet has been the shining star of this project, the backbone fiber communications system serves an even bigger purpose: improving reliability, safety and your overall service experience.
With most of the communications backbone now in place, we’re pursuing our first smart grid application: Distribution Automation (DA). It will allow us to improve reliability with real-time monitoring and intelligent control.
Today, power outages can affect large numbers of people at one time, requiring our crews to manually investigate miles upon miles of electric lines to locate and fix the problem. DA identifies and isolates outages and automatically reroutes electricity where it can so that fewer people are impacted. Plus, by isolating an outage, our linemen can identify the problem much more quickly. Put simply, DA means fewer and shorter outages for our members.
In non-outage situations, DA will help us monitor equipment in ways not previously available, resulting in fewer failures and a potential for reduced operational costs.
We expect full implementation of DA in southwest Michigan to take about four years. The board is currently evaluating next steps for implementation of the communications infrastructure, and resulting applications like DA, in southeast Michigan.