May 14, 2020

PPL Electric Utilities uses groundbreaking innovation to enhance safety

On a frigid and windy February day last year, more than 1,100 customers lost power when a tree in the Harrisburg area knocked down a wire in a wooded right-of-way and crashed onto overhead equipment on the line.

A fuse on the affected line did not operate, which would normally mean electric current could have been coursing through the downed line, creating a potential hazard to anyone who came close to it. But a new system being used by PPL Electric Utilities detected the downed line and automatically powered it off. It was PPL’s first successful operation of its new downed wire safety system – something the utility believes is the first of its kind in the world.

Six years ago, in 2014, PPL began working with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories to implement SEL’s Arc Sense fault detection technology on its distribution grid.

At its core, Arc Sense uses an algorithm to detect energized downed power lines, analyzing current on the line to identify the kind of electrical current signatures unique to downed wires. It’s like facial recognition for electrical current.

PPL didn’t stop there. Its engineers developed an algorithm that worked with Arc Sense to safely and automatically cut power to downed wires. PPL is currently patenting the automatic power-cutting technology.

The innovation earned PPL Electric Utilities an Association of Edison Illuminating Companies 2019 Achievement Award and an Electric Power Research Institute Technology Transfer Award, two of the highest honors in the utility industry.

PPL Electric Utilities has installed the new technology in about 1,500 locations across its service territory, wherever protective relays are involved. The company intends to expand the technology across its entire distribution grid over the next several years.

When it comes to downed power lines, public safety for is paramount for PPL. This technology is one more way the company is enhancing safety for its employees and customers.