The electrical industry has made some rather substantial improvements more than a year after Superstorm Sandy exposed a variety of flaws and defects in the electrical infrastructure throughout the northeast, officials from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) say.
At the state level, many states have implemented the most recent edition of the National Electrical Code, says Paul Molitor, assistant vice president of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. And on the federal level, funds have been allocated to communities to help them rebuild via Smart Grid technologies instead of replacing the previous sub-standard systems and equipment.
In fact, several financial mechanisms – such as federal matching funds, rate recovery incentives, and accelerated depreciation – are expected to help various manufacturers and utilities finance new investments in Smart Grid and cybersecurity, officials say.
“I think post Superstorm Sandy and many other major weather events and disasters in the Northeast and throughout the country, utilities and regulators are starting to look at the capabilities of smart grid technology in a different light,” Deana Dennis, manager of state government relations at NEMA, tells Industry Today.
“You’ll see that in almost all of the Sandy-hit states in the Atlantic northeast utilities have proposals before their state utility commissions asking for money that they can put into the rate base so they can upgrade their systems using intelligent technology at the distribution level and also in the sub-station transmission level.”
By incorporating Smart Grid technologies into the current electrical grid, it allows the grid to rebound more quickly from—or in some cases, avoid—outages. Examples of Smart Grid technologies consist of smart meters, distribution automation, and energy storage.
Dennis adds that NEMA members are leading the way in Smart Grid technologies by encouraging and supporting investment in the national electricity grid and research and development while developing new product standards.
This is significant when you take into account the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy, which caused over 100 deaths – nine of which were from carbon monoxide poisoning, likely from improper use of portable generators, NEMA says.
And in addition to the thousands of destroyed homes and businesses, nearly eight million people across the mid-Atlantic and New England regions were left without power, some for more than two weeks.
“When an incident like Hurricane Sandy hits, what the Smart Grid technologies do is, first of all, shut downed power lines so you don’t have the danger of electrocution,” Molitor says. “Then, it also routes the power around, and it behaves in a self-healing manner to restore electric service to the greatest number of people possible.”
The growing popularity in Smart Grid technology coincides with how more states have implemented the most recent edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC), adopted in 2011. The next edition is slated for adoption in 2014.
Jack Lyons, the northeast field representative at NEMA, says by using the most recent NEC, states are enhancing the safety and well-being of their residents as these codes help prevent personal injury, structural damage, and electrical fires.
“There are always different and better techniques to wiring. There are always different products that are available that provide more safety to the end-user, the homeowner itself,” Lyons says. “There are operational situations within the code that are identified as hazardous, so they try to fix it every cycle. So it’s an ongoing industry, it’s a growing industry and things are always changing. “
For example, he says Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) have been proven to be very effective in fire safety, much like ground fault circuits were back in the ’70s and ’80s. Also exploding in popularity are photovoltaic (PV) systems.
“So all of these new products in development in electrical safety keep getting put into the code and provide a better safe environment for homeowners and business owners,” Lyons adds. “We’re talking about high, large electrical installations where a lot of the safety and working techniques have to be installed according to an up-to-date code.”
NEMA says 27 states have now adopted the 2011 edition of the NEC while 15 utilize the 2008 version. One state, Connecticut, uses the 2005 NEC, while seven states leave the code adoption to local municipalities.
Molitor says NEMA has made available resources to educate installers and inspectors about the benefits of Smart Grid technologies and the importance of the NEC. Lyons, for instance, works regularly with local chapters of the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) in evaluating water-damaged equipment using suggested guidelines drafted by NEMA.
“As far as our members go, we have a Smart Grid council. There are a lot of moving parts globally in terms of the smart grid, through the efforts of the National Institute of Standards and Technologies here in the United States,” he says. “The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) has a framework.”
Molitor adds, “Then, on top of that, there’s a newly formed non-profit organization, called the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, that’s involved in all of the standards’ identification and modification for Smart Grid. We get in the middle of all of those activities, constantly generating reports and getting our members engaged on how they want to participate in all of these standardization activities.”
About the National Electrical Manufacturers Association
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) is the association of electrical equipment and medical imaging manufacturers. Founded in 1926 and headquartered in Rosslyn, Virginia, its 400-plus member companies manufacture a diverse set of products used in the generation, transmission, distribution, and end use of electricity as well as medical diagnostic imaging. Worldwide annual sales of products in the NEMA scope exceed $140 billion.