Technology Breakthroughs

As we do our part to modernize the grid, we are taking bold actions to diversify our energy resources, invest in new technology and optimize our existing infrastructure to meet changing customer demands. The result has been cutting-edge innovation from our employees and technology partners.

Transmission Re-conductoring Live Line

In 2015, AEP completed the longest and most complex “re-conductoring-while-energized” project in company history, with upgrades for two 345-kV transmission lines between Corpus Christi, Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV). This project was unique because an energized re-conductor project of this size and length had never been attempted.

The project spanned nearly three years and involved careful installation of new conductor onto two existing and diminished 1970s era extra-high-voltage lines while they remained energized; plus upgrades to stations along the routes. Each re-conductored line branches 120 miles from the Lon Hill Station to separate destinations, North Edinburg and Rio Hondo stations, delivering much-needed additional power into the LRGV, including grid access to emerging wind generation and other resources.

Demand for electricity in LRGV has grown 80 percent since 1996 due to steady population growth and commercial development. Meanwhile, generating capacity has remained steady at about 1,600 megawatts (MW) during that 20-year period, not enough to handle season peak loads, such as the record 2,730 MW in the winter of 2011 when power was imported to meet demand. Forecasts predict load in the LRGV will climb to more than 3,000 MW by the end of the decade.

AEP was recognized for the re-conductoring project as the recipient of the Edison Electric Institute's (EEI's) 2016 Edison Award, the electric power industry's most prestigious honor. The award recognizes distinguished leadership, innovation, and progress in advancing the electric power industry.


Watch the video "Re-conductoring Project in the Lower Rio Grande Valley" to learn more about the project.

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Fiber Optics

AEP is building its first substation protection and control system to be entirely operated by fiber-optic technology. Various U.S. utilities have installed components of a fiber-optic protection system while continuing to rely on traditional copper-based protection systems. AEP’s installation will rely entirely on fiber-optic protection and is expected to be built in Ohio in late 2016. Thread-like fiber-optic wires will take the place of most of the copper wiring that would otherwise be required in the station. AEP’s launch of fiber-optic technology is a collaborative effort with General Electric.

Although fiber-optic technology is decades old and a mainstay in the telecommunications industry, the energy industry has been slow to adopt it because hard-wired copper holds a time-tested and reliable performance record. Among the reasons for adopting fiber optics:

  1. It matches the skillset of newly-trained engineers and technicians; to them, fiber-optics is the “new copper.”
  2. Fiber is less vulnerable to interferences (such as those caused by lightning or high-voltage switching impulses) in the harsh substation electromagnetic environment.
  3. The AEP-developed drop-in control modules (DICM), a standardized substation control house, can accept fiber-optic wiring and devices.
  4. It connects customers to the grid faster, meeting their business needs.

Electromagnetic Pulse Disturbance Mitigation

High-impact, low-frequency (HILF) events are a growing concern in the power industry. These include natural events such as severe weather, pandemics or solar flares. HILF events also include man-made actions, such as cyber, physical, or coordinated attacks, including electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and intentional EM interference (IEMI) attacks. Policymakers are looking to the energy industry to develop an effective, affordable response based on scientific evidence and testing.

EMP refers to a very intense, short burst of electromagnetic energy that can impact electronic or electrical equipment. Man-made, high-energy EMPs result from the detonation of a nuclear or other high-energy explosive device. A HEMP (high altitude electromagnetic pulse) is a nuclear warhead det¬onated high above the Earth’s surface to produce more wide¬spread EMP effects. HEMP detonation can occur with little or no warning, making mitigation based on operational strategies ineffective. Therefore, response to the HEMP threat generally comes in the form of hardening assets to reduce initial damage, and recovery to reduce the duration of the interruption.

The redundant nature of the U.S. power grid provides significant protection from a wide range of natural and man-made threats. In addition, AEP is implementing a number of mitigation techniques for further protection, including:

  • Development of the Drop in Control Module (DICM), an EMP-resistant control house in the substation that shields the electronic equipment. The DICM is built using a metal exterior with special consideration to ensure bonding of metal members, improved grounding and cable en¬trances.
  • Installation of power supply and communication cables with integrated shields. For example, individually shield¬ed twisted pair cables with an overall grounded shield.
  • Installation of filters applied at cable entry points to re¬duce high frequency, conducted energy, which can im¬pact electronics.
  • Incorporating EMP resiliency into new components, such as relays and communication systems through equip¬ment manufacturers.

AEP is also piloting fiber-based protective relay systems that will provide enhanced shielding effectiveness by minimizing traditional copper conductors/cable penetrating the building. The benefits of the fiber system will also provide an opportunity to install enhanced EMP solutions at the fiber cable entrances which have also been identified as an area of improvement.

AEP continues to be a leader in this area, by actively participating in and leading industry and regulatory hosted discussions, including the Electric Power Research Institute and the North American Transmission Forum EMP working groups.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

AEP is exploring opportunities for using unmanned aircraft systems, or drone technology, for a variety of inspection applications across our generation, transmission and distribution system.

In 2015, AEP assembled a multi-disciplined team to explore opportunities for using unmanned aircraft systems, or drone technology, for a variety of inspection applications across our generation, transmission and distribution system. Our generation business unit has used the technology for boiler furnace and boiler inspections that otherwise would require significant outage time, affecting customers. It would also have required building scaffolding to gain access to the equipment for inspection. Using drone technology proved to be more cost-effective, safer for our employees and produced high-quality results.

Additional opportunities to use drone technology are being explored within each business unit, along with an effort to engage in the development of legislation and regulations associated with it. We are also exploring business case opportunities for owning and operating our own drone technology. AEP is working with the Electric Power Research Institute in a study to investigate the potential for increasing worker safety and reducing transmission line inspection and maintenance costs by using drone technology.

Electric Office

A new geographical information system called Electric Office has been deployed to give us greater control of automated circuits by integrating our mapping system with the outage management system and our new distribution Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. Once in place, our dispatchers will be able to see what’s happening on the system in real-time, allowing us to minimize impacts to customers. Starting in 2016, the SCADA system will be implemented across AEP, one company at a time, with an estimated completion in 2018. Once it is fully operational, we will be better able to pinpoint the location of problems and more efficiently deploy resources. SCADA is important as the use of local generation on our system grows because it allows us to “see” how those resources are interacting with the power grid and make real-time adjustments.

Transmission SCADA

Transmission uses SCADA to perform centralized monitoring and control of field sites, including monitoring alarms and processing associated with analog and status data. Based on information received from remote stations, automated or operator-driven supervisory commands can be sent to remote station control devices.

These SCADA systems and the remote station control devices continue to mature and evolve as technology changes. AEP Transmission has implemented a new Remote Terminal Unit platform into the station design to improve the interface between the next generation Intelligent Electronic Devices within the substation and the centralized SCADA systems. This SCADA information is being used to respond to station alarms and system conditions. Additionally, field employees are using mobile devices to report station entry/exit, and further uses of mobile devices, such as electronic switch orders, are in various stages of implementation.