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Peek in to the future: A visit to Duke Envision Center, Erlarger KY

In this blog I would like to share our experience about peeking in to the future of distribution grids. The purpose was to see what future holds for smart grid customers and utilities (apart from usual customer meeting). I have decided to keep the focus of this blog to details of what we saw during our tour in to the future, i.e. Duke's Envision Center for Smart Grids. What I was expecting was to enter in to a conference hall with few equipment, meters and LCD monitors demonstrating different software applications. But when Yamur welcomed us in to the Duke Envision Center, we were awestruck looking at what we saw in front of us. It was like entering in to science fiction movie set, where they have mimicked a small city that hosted smart homes (including intelligent consumer devices like smart heater, refrigerators, dishwashers, smart garage etc.), distribution substation, power lines, poles, Distribution Automation equipment, communications equipment, smart charging station, distribution control center ....and what not. In the beginning of the tour was the demonstration of smart substation and distribution automation network. The highlight was the distribution automation technology Duke Energy is placing onto its power-delivery system. It was good to see intelligent capacitor banks and other advance distribution automation equipment installed and in action. What was nice that the demonstration of direction of power flow using rope lights. That concept is very easy for non-utility, non-electrical engineering background to see what we mean when we say power flow unidirectional v/s bi-directional. Imagine standing in front of a distribution substation and appreciating the state of the art setup to demonstrate the utility of the future. There are red rope lights coming out of the substation that show how the power is transferred to various buildings within the smart city. From the substation we move straight in to the smart home that has various displays and devices to demonstrate two way interaction of smart home owner with the distribution grid. Here is where the actual impact of digital consumer can be seen. We saw how the end user is able to receive timely data about usage and patterns in a meaningful manner to enable customers to make decisions about their energy consumption and hence use energy more effectively and ultimately save money. From the kitchen and living room we walk in to the smart garage. Here they explained the PHEV/EV charging and the work Duke Energy is doing to better understand potential impacts of PHEV/EV over the distribution grid. Now move on to the next section where there is a movie set of multi-family/commercial building site with smart meter bank on the side. The connection of these buildings with the community electrical storage can also be seen here. This is where we was Duke's vision about how they are using smart meters to improve the customer service experience, e.g energy theft prevention, seamless meter reading etc. After this section we come out on the street (still inside the envision center). This is when Yamur explained to us how devices advance technology will be used to pinpoint problem areas, isolate them and restore the service automatically (basically Fault Location, Isolation and Service Restoration aka FLISR). These parts of demonstration makes you wander are you in Universal Studios in LA or in Duke's Envision Center in KY? Here with a touch sensitive tablet device in hand Yamur kicks off the movie magic in action. The rumblings of simulated thunder overhead begin to take place and a large video monitor displays a server weather alert. What follows is lightning, and the weather report with increased severity and lo!!, the lightning struck the distribution substation with a pop and a flicker. This causes the outage which is demonstrated by switched off rope lighting. Almost in near real-time most of the section of the rope lighting relights. One can hear the loud sound of switching operations as the intelligent switches in co-ordination with advanced distribution automation applications running in control center perform the job of locating the fault, isolation and then rerouting the power from neighboring feeder. This section of demonstration truly demonstrates how the investment in to advance technology will transform the power grids in to self-healing smart grids. The storm is over, the field technicians have to work on shorter and pin pointed section of the distribution grid, and soon the service is restored to all of the customers. This is where the journey to future ends, and you are left wondering jeez this is how it is really going to work in real-life and I am sure will change the way you read, analyze and look at future of smart grid. I was so awestruck that I went on to google to see if there is a way I can share this awesome experience with my fellow readers and I found the following link on top of the good search results, which is the video of Duke Envision Center Demonstration. Please visit this video and see what future holds for digital energy customers of the future. Followed by tour to Envision Center, we visited the Smart Grid Interoperability Lab (SGIL) setup by Duke Energy in collaboration with KEMA, which in my opinion is a true learning ground. What we see here is the smart grid interoperability testing and certification lab in the back of the envision center's movie set. The SGIL provides utilities and technology suppliers an opportunity to test interoperability of the emerging products the existing grid system. It was an excellent experience peeking in to the future of digital power grids and kudos to the Duke Energy's smart grid team for setting up a state of the art envision center. Thanks to the Duke's team Yamur (Communications Specialist, Duke Energy), Steven Hinkel (Director of Advance Technology, Duke Energy) and Avery (Manager of Smart Grid Deployment Planning, Duke Energy) for providing us with the opportunity to tour the envision center.

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