Western States to Ease Electrical Grid Woes with an Old Technology Made New

Western States to Ease Electrical Grid Woes with an Old Technology Made New

The U.S. West is integrating a decades-old ‘synchrophasor’ technology into the grid, allowing utilities to add more renewables and help avoid blackouts.

By Maria Gallucci, InsideClimate News

The Western electrical grid is in the midst of a major modernization using an old technology—the synchrophasor. The sci-fi sounding device can help smooth out the peaks and dips in renewable power and avoid regional blackouts.

Fueled by millions in smart grid stimulus funding, the 30-year-old technology is only now experiencing a major uptake, advocates say.

Synchrophasors are, technically, measurements of electricity waves; phasor measurement units, or PMUs, are the machines doing the measuring. Resembling desktop PC units, PMUs sit in electrical substations and record electricity flows on transmissions lines up to 120 times per second and report the results to grid control centers.

The belief is that deploying hundreds at a time would allow an electrical grid to absorb more intermittent power sources, like solar and wind, and keep the grid stable, by providing operators a more precise picture of grid conditions and early warning of problems that lead to blackouts.

Within a year and a half, 18 utilities and power authorities in 14 Western states and two Canadian provinces will deploy 300 units, more than double the current number in the United States. It will be North America’s single largest network of PMUs. The Salt Lake City-based Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC), which oversees the reliability of electricity transmission in areas of the Western States, Canada and Mexico, is organizing the effort.

A project like this has been a long time coming.

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