Technology for Today and Tomorrow
At the start of the 20th century, only 10 percent of Americans had electricity. By the end of the century, almost all Americans received it in the homes and work places. Electric service catapulted the nation’s economy and enhanced lifestyles and comfort so much that the U.S. National Academy of Engineering chose large-scale electricity networks as the greatest engineering achievement of the century.
Engineering achievements continue today in the 21st century and NOVEC is embracing them. As a leader on the high-tech frontier, the Cooperative is using proven, cost-effective technology to improve productivity and reliability, reduce expenses, and increase cybersecurity – a national priority. Today’s technology includes what the industry calls “smart grid,” as well as fiber optics, and mobile workforce.
In 2013, NOVEC completed its $10 million smart-grid project. Half of the money for the project came from a U.S. Department of Energy grant awarded to the Co-op in 2009.
Smart-grid technology improves power generation, transmission, and distribution. And it improves how substations function. The new technology has greatly increased the accuracy and effectiveness of circuit-protection equipment and monitoring at the Co-op's substations. New digital devices installed in substations continuously monitor power transformers, battery systems, voltage, protective devices, and power quality. The devices send data updates to system operators every five seconds, 365 days a year. They often send alerts about impending power outages in time for system operators to avert them. They also save time and labor costs: Before NOVEC installed the devices, field-service technicians had to drive to each substation to collect equipment readings every month. Most importantly, the smart-grid upgrades have significantly enhanced security at NOVEC's substations through video monitoring.
Smart-grid technology also allows NOVEC to use remote-controlled switching devices on distribution lines in strategic locations to restore power quicker when outages occur. By switching to alternate feeds, NOVEC can restore service to customers in minutes instead of hours.
To take full advantage of smart-grid upgrades, NOVEC built a communications data-exchange network. But since data-exchange networks create potential cyber-attack points of entry, the Co-op teamed with Lockheed Martin Corporation to integrate cybersecurity infrastructure into NOVEC's smart-grid plan.
NOVEC and Lockheed Martin are working together to make cybersecurity awareness part of the electric- utility culture. They are training employees to recognize and respond to social engineering and phishing scams. In addition, the companies are performing vulnerability assessments and penetration tests annually.
NOVEC's fiber-optic network grew from six miles in 1995 to more than 230 miles in 2014. The network, a vital component of the electric distribution system, provides highly secure two-way communication links between Intelligent Electronic Devices in 44 of the Co-op's 53 substations. The fiber network also links NOVEC's wide-area corporate data and voice communications networks at five of the Co-op's offices.
The fiber network has greatly improved communications to and from substations. This improvement allows NOVEC to monitor and control more equipment faster and more precisely.
NOVEC leases excess fiber, where available, to other companies or agencies that operate commercial telecommunication businesses. Leasing produces a revenue stream that helps offset NOVEC's electric operations. NOVEC Solutions (NS), a wholly owned NOVEC's subsidiary, is one company that leases the fiber-optic network.
In 2007, NOVEC launched the Polaris Mobile Workforce Management System to improve field-work efficiency. The system streamlines: the process of marking underground power cables for customers who notify Call 811 Before You Dig; connecting and disconnecting meters; reading automated meters; and performing other electric meter service requirements. This mobile workforce technology produced impressive cost savings as soon as NOVEC started using it.
Today, NOVEC’s is using mobile workforce technology for other important Co-op tasks, including: responding to power outages and other power-related problems; maintenance work; street-light repairs; material reporting; and automatic vehicle location.
Cell Tower Attachments
NOVEC leases property surrounding Co-op substations and poles to telecommunications companies that want to install cellular facilities. The Co-op, along with Milestone Communications, co-locates NOVEC facilities on existing structures wherever possible. With the demand for cellular service continuing to grow, NOVEC customer-owners will continue to benefit from the revenue stream that leasing provides.