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FPL takes smart technology underground

For more than a dozen years, smart technology used on the traditional overhead energy grid has played a key role in Florida Power & Light Company’s efforts to provide America’s best energy value. Energy that is not just clean and the most reliable in the country – but also affordable.

With more than 5 million smart meters and over 155,000 intelligent devices installed along the grid since 2006, FPL has achieved a nearly 40% improvement in reliability during that time for its 5.6 million customers. And now, with a continued eye on the future, the company is taking these intelligent technologies in a whole new direction.

Downward. As in underground.

Just as FPL currently installs about 90% of its new power lines underground, it is deploying automated feeder switches and fault current indicators across key areas of the underground grid, strategically placing them where they can most efficiently help prevent outages for thousands of customers.

“It’s been a very logical extension of smart technology,” says Rick Teigland, FPL’s grid automation manager, who’s been involved with smart-device undergrounding since its beginnings in 2019. “These newer designs are now providing the same benefits to the underground system.”

Fault current indicators identify faults on underground lines, greatly narrowing troubled areas so crews can more efficiently locate and fix problems; automated feeder switches are self-powered and more self-healing in nature, able to redistribute power and avoid customer outages when problems do occur, says Teigland.

Underground smart devices may actually prove to be more effective than overhead devices over the coming years and decades.

“Through the overhead system, repair crews can often physically see what the problem is, but with an underground system, although problems occur much less frequently, they can be harder to identify since the lines are buried,” explains Robert Gaddis, FPL’s general manager of reliability. “So these devices will likely be even more effective on an underground system where it’s always been harder to locate the true problem.”

The underground system itself will continue to expand, as well.

In addition to FPL’s increased placements of new power lines beneath the surface, the company’s Storm Secure Underground Pilot Program is helping to determine cost-effective ways to replace existing overhead lines with more reliable underground lines in select neighborhoods based on past hurricane outage performance, a history of vegetation-related interruptions and other reliability factors.

“Underground power lines perform better than overhead lines in good weather and bad weather,” says Jerry Cook, FPL’s senior director of project development, who oversees the undergrounding program. “Continuing to develop these smart underground devices will further enhance reliability.”

All of which should result in a continued reduction of outages, shorter periods without power and a better overall experience for customers from an increasingly resilient and intuitive energy grid.

Which begs the ultimate question: What will that grid of tomorrow look like?

“Perhaps drastically different,” Gaddis says. “Undergrounding the lines is what the future of our system is going to look like. We are always looking to innovate, and there’s much more to come.”

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