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Naperville Smart Grid Initiative: Too Many Outages

In 1992, Naperville’s water utility merged with the electric utility, and Allan Poole, formerly director of the water utility, was named the director of the now combined City of Naperville Department of Public Utilities. What Poole inherited was an aging electricity grid with antiquated technology incapable of meeting the city’s rising demand for power, a consequence of rapid population and community growth.

The combination of a power-hungry community and outdated infrastructure meant that Naperville residents were experiencing power outages that were growing more frequent and longer in duration. In other words, the Naperville electric utility had a major reliability problem on its hands.

“We came to a point where upgrading our electricity grid was absolutely necessary,” said Allan Poole, Naperville’s Director of Public Utilities. “Not only was there a pressing need to build new infrastructure to meet the rise in demand, but we also needed to replace and upgrade the existing, failing grid. Faced with the need to act, rather than simply fix what needed fixing, we chose to plan for future growth and anticipate advancing technologies. This combination of factors became the catalyst for innovation.”

The first thing that Poole and his colleagues at Naperville’s Department of Public Utilities did was to apply continuous improvement methods — the foundation of quality management — to the upgrade process. This led to a fundamental change in design and the complete renewal of Naperville’s electricity system. Leveraging unconventional thinking, Naperville created its own intelligent grid by converting its system into a smart microgrid — a community-based version of the bulk power grid that incorporates the latest smart technology, local power generation, and a configuration that virtually eliminates power outages by identifying and adapting to faults.

This was accomplished by moving the system underground, building in redundant supply to buildings, automating switches to reroute power in the case of a failure, and communications with all devices. A benefit of smart power technology is having the ability to acquire and access data detailing how the distribution system is functioning. In order for Naperville to capitalize on this advantage, they built a centralized location for all of the incoming data to be directed, called the Electric Service Center. From the Electric Service Center,’s control room, also known as the “smart grid brain,” a real-time data acquisition system called System Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA) gathered and processed critical data. SCADA is crucial for real-time operation and requires reliable, two-way communication with the substations. Monitoring SCADA from the Electric Service Center’s controls allowed the Naperville team to forecast and plan their system better, fix problems using controls from the Electric Service Center’s control room, as well as dispatch people to address problems quicker. Thus, SCADA became the backbone of Naperville’s power system – and the first step toward improving their grid.

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