>We have been slowly becoming more busy as the new year keeps coming along. We have been particularly busy here in Yucaipa. Installing lots and lots of outdoor lighting, and doing service work! We are posting some of this outdoor lights on our website, so go and check out our work! Maybe you as well need or want to beef up your outdoor lighting for security reasons, or just to beautify your home. Also been been doing some custom parking lot lighting as well in Redlands, we should be posting that as well. Don’t forget we have a boom lift that reaches 50ft and a crane lift that goes 110ft! We can install parking lot lights and electrical store front signs for your business. So keep the hits coming and check out our website at lwelectrical.com for money saving coupons and much more. thank you!
Since the inception of electricity deregulation and market-driven pricing throughout the world, utilities have been looking for a means to match consumption with generation. Traditional electrical meters only measure total consumption and as such, provide no information of when the energy was consumed. Smart meters provide an economical way of measuring this information, allowing price setting agencies to introduce different prices for consumption based on the time of day and the season.
Electricity pricing usually peaks at certain predictable times of the day and the season. In particular, if generation is constrained, prices can rise from other jurisdictions or more costly generation is brought online. It is believed that billing customers by time of day will encourage consumers to adjust their consumption habits to be more responsive to market prices.
Regulatory and market design agencies hope these “price signals” will delay the construction of additional generation or at least the purchase of energy from higher priced sources, thereby controlling the steady and rapid increase of electricity prices.
Solar Storm Risks Bring Disaster Plans
Published: November 16, 2010
ON a March night 21 years ago, a storm brought Quebec’s electric power grid to its knees.
It wasn’t snow, ice or wind that caused Hydro-Québec‘s high-voltage transmission system to go down, blacking out millions of customers for nine hours or more. It was a solar storm — a blast of electrically charged gas from the sun that disrupted the Earth’s magnetic field and made the grid go haywire.
As bad as this “space weather” was — it even damaged a giant transformer at a nuclear power plant in New Jersey, hundreds of miles from Quebec — scientists and engineers say much more severe storms have occurred in the past, before the development of high-voltage power grids, and are possible in the future.
In a worst case, a major geomagnetic storm “could be perhaps the largest natural disaster this country could face,” said John G. Kappenman, a consultant to the power industry. It could cause regionwide or larger blackouts, potentially for months, and affect grids on other continents as well.
While the electric power industry learned much from the 1989 disturbance, and Hydro-Québec and other utilities took steps to be better able to cope with such events, experts say that no grid anywhere is fully protected from a severe geomagnetic storm. It is difficult even to assess the risks of such events, which are very rare and potentially catastrophic.
“The concern for a utility is for these high-impact, low-probability events,” said Luke van der Zel, a technical executive with the Electric Power Research Institute. “Mitigation becomes challenging.”
What’s more, said Mr. Kappenman, while the power industry has spent billions of dollars to “harden” systems against hurricanes, blizzards and other Earth-based storms, “from the standpoint of space weather, I would argue that we have just not understood the threat.”
While grids in higher latitudes are especially vulnerable, the growth of the transmission network in the United States, which now includes about 200,000 miles of high-voltage lines, has increased the risk that a severe storm here will cause crippling damage. “The larger you make the grid, the larger it acts like an antenna to disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field,” said Mr. Kappenman, who served on a committee that produced a report on the risks for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.
Higher-transmission voltages — favored by utilities because they result in lower energy losses — have also made grids more susceptible to damage from solar storms, said Sean Eagleton, a section manager for engineering with Con Edison, the New York-area utility company. “Engineers are involved in tradeoffs,” he said. “In the process of making the system more efficient, they make it more vulnerable.”
But given the social and economic havoc that a blackout of months could wreak, engineers and scientists are starting to look more closely at the threat from a severe geomagnetic storm. Efforts are under way to improve forecasting, to give utilities more precise information about when and where a solar storm will hit and how severe the impact will be, so that grid operators can take defensive measures. And utilities and researchers are working to devise equipment and procedures to better enable transmission systems to ride out a major event.
Economics are a big issue, Mr. van der Zel said, and the costs of retrofitting hundreds or thousands of high-voltage transformers, for example, would need to be analyzed.
“The end goal is to have a risk assessment and a mitigation methodology,” he added. “It’s a complex issue. It’s not like many other risks that utilities deal with.”
A geomagnetic storm begins with an enormous burst of electrically charged gas, or plasma, from the sun. The gas travels very quickly — on the order of a million miles an hour or faster — and if it happens to be aimed at Earth, can reach the planet in as little as a day.
Then, strange things happen to the Earth’s orderly magnetic field. It begins to fluctuate, creating differing electric potentials on the Earth’s surface. From this point, a simple law of electricity follows: If the potential at one end of a transmission line is higher than the potential at the other end, dozens or even hundreds of miles away, a current will flow through the line.
It is these currents that can cause problems. They are so different from the normal currents in high-voltage lines that they interfere with the operation of the transformers — the voltage boosters or reducers — that are an essential part of the grid. Transformers can overheat and become damaged, or develop other problems that can cause switches within the system to trip automatically. Voltage throughout the grid can begin to drop, and unless more power can be quickly brought online — either by starting up more generators or shunting it from another system — the grid can collapse.
That’s what happened in Quebec in 1989, and it took only 92 seconds. Fortunately most of the transformers were not permanently affected. But in a much more severe storm — similar to one that occurred in 1859, when other than telegraphs there was little electrical equipment to be damaged — transformers may be destroyed or become otherwise inoperable. These are not off-the-shelf products: a typical high-voltage transformer can weigh several hundred tons and is designed and built (at a cost of up to $10 million or more) for a particular installation. So it may take months to replace them.
That’s why Mr. Kappenman and others are working on ways to keep geomagnetically induced currents out of transmission lines to begin with. A device called a capacitor could be installed near each vulnerable transformer to effectively block currents from entering the transmission lines.
Capacitors are usually fairly small — the ones on the circuit board inside a typical radio are usually smaller than a fingertip. But in transmission systems, the equipment would be roughly the size of a washing machine, and the capacitors would need to be able to be bypassed in a fraction of a second to allow conventional currents through.
“That makes for an active device, one that looks at what current is flowing and makes decisions in real time,” Mr. van der Zel said. “That’s a lot more expensive than a passive device.”
Mr. Kappenman estimated that in the United States alone, about 5,000 vulnerable transformers would have to be retrofitted, at a cost of perhaps $100,000 each, plus installation. It would make little sense to retrofit only a few transformers; the rogue currents created by an extreme solar storm could flow here and there throughout the grid, damaging unprotected equipment.
Mr. Eagleton said Con Edison had been working with Mr. Kappenman and others and planned to test blocking devices on a few transformers. The utility already has some current-blocking experience, he said: it has to keep the current used in New York’s subways, which is in some ways similar to those created by a solar storm, out of the regular transmission lines.
Mr. Eagleton said Con Edison had also worked with transformer manufacturers on design issues. With the difficulties of transporting and installing equipment in the New York City area, the utility at one time had ordered shorter transformers, so that they would fit under bridges and be otherwise easier to handle. “But now we’ve moved to a design that’s a little taller, and a little less vulnerable to geomagnetic disturbance,” he said.
No one is really certain, however, how a redesigned or retrofitted transformer will perform in a severe storm. “Unfortunately, the only way to know is to experience it,” Mr. Eagleton said.
But more thorough research can help, Mr. van der Zel said. “If we had a very, very large storm, would the entire grid collapse? The answer is we don’t really know, because we don’t have a very accurate complete network analysis. That is something that’s desirable.”
More immediate, and less costly, help can come in the form of better forecasting. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Antti Pulkkinen and other researchers are working to do that, running data from sun-sensing satellites in simulations that are more and more sophisticated. The project, called Solar Shield, is still experimental, but as the models are refined, Mr. Pulkkinen said, it should become fully operational within the next few years.
With it, he said, “we can calculate exactly when this thing is going to happen and what is going to happen.” Extremely precise information about a storm that is about to hit would give grid operators time to take measures to add redundancy to their systems — like putting transmission lines that had been shut down for maintenance back on line, or preparing idle generators to start up again.
In the worst case, Mr. Pulkkinen said, operators might even decide to power down their systems completely, thinking that a brief, deliberate shutdown was a far better outcome than a long blackout.
Mr. Pulkkinen said two developments were helping to improve the forecasts: more and better data from satellites, and improved processing ability. “To run these large-scale space simulations, you need a lot of horsepower from your computers,” he said, adding that “we are now for the first time applying physics-based models to forecast the impact of solar activities on the power grid.”
Mr. Eagleton, of Con Edison, said forecasting had something else going for it as well. “One thing about the sun being 93 million miles away,” he said, “it gives you some time.”