Engineers’ curiosity, creativity fuels the design of tomorrow’s energy grid

We may not be fully conscious of it, but we’re surrounded each day by the work of engineers.

The roads we travel on and the cars we travel in are created by engineers. Same with the computers we work on and the smart phones we play on. Engineers create toys to entertain children and medical devices to extend the lives of patients.

And the electricity that powers the creation of all of these things is delivered by a complicated and evolving energy grid designed by engineers.

Just like it takes all kinds of engineers to pioneer progress in the world, it takes a variety of engineers to design, build and maintain PPL’s vast infrastructure network. That includes electrical, civil, environmental, industrial, mechanical, chemical and software engineers.

At PPL and its family of companies, their work is as impressive as it is crucial.

Engineers at PPL Electric Utilities designed a revolutionary system to remotely sectionalize power in distribution lines when faults occur, allowing power to keep flowing through other sections so additional homes and businesses aren’t affected by the fault. And now, the utility is working on a first-of-its-kind system to perform the same task on high-voltage transmission lines. And not just for customers in Pennsylvania. The utility is partnering with fellow PPL companies Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities whose engineers are also working to implement the system.

Engineers at PPL Electric Utilities are also piloting a battery storage project that could provide even more reliability on the utility’s system. The 50-kilowatt battery on a single-phase line near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania can provide up to six hours of electricity to customers in the event of an outage on the line. Without the battery, customers would have to wait until crews fix the problem before having power restored. But this new system allows the homes in the area to continue receiving service while repairs are made. Similar batteries could be placed in other areas of the utility’s system.

It takes curiosity, creativity and dedication to come up with new ways to overhaul the grid. It’s a mission that Peter Waldrab, former director of engineering and project delivery for PPL Electric Utilities and now vice president of electric distribution for LG&E and KU Services, welcomes.

“As an engineer, I enjoy challenges,” Waldrab said. “I’m hard-coded to see a challenge as an opportunity. The grid is the world’s largest machine and we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to overhaul it. Reshaping it to meet tomorrow’s needs is exciting.”

February 19, 2020

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