New Technology Will Help Reduce Impact of Outages

Remote Fault Indicators are part of Southern California Edison’s efforts to modernize the electric grid.

Power outages are an inconvenient fact of life, but a new technology being deployed by Southern California Edison will decrease how long outages last and how many customers are impacted. It will also help integrate the energy generated by rooftop solar panels onto the power grid.

SCE plans to roll out remote fault indicators over the next 10 years. When there is a power interruption, they send a signal with the exact location of the malfunction to grid operators, allowing them to quickly map the location, isolate the outage and dispatch a crew.

The remote fault indicators are one of a number of next-generation projects SCE is undertaking to modernize the electric grid.

Previously, SCE placed mechanical fault indicators on its distribution lines. A light in these devices would come on when a disruption triggered a power outage. An SCE troubleman, alerted to the outage, would drive through the area to look for the light on the line. Until the disruption was localized, the entire line — sometimes much of a neighborhood — might remain without power. 

“Driving through a neighborhood looking for a downed line, even in the best of cases, can take an hour or more, which is time that could be better spent getting the crew out to start repairs,” said Tobie Anderson of SCE’s Grid Operations Resource Planning Performance Management team, noting that outages can be triggered by natural or human events, including Mylar balloons falling on lines, storms, car accidents or other wire damage.

This year, 1,500 remote fault indicators will be installed in SCE’s service area, including 147 in Upland, 96 in La Puente, 84 in Santa Fe Springs and 75 in West Covina. The devices are remotely monitored by radios, about the size of a loaf of bread and sit on power lines. Installation does not require a planned outage — the devices are simply hooked on the power line. 

By 2025, remote fault indicators will be installed across much of the 90,401 miles of SCE distribution wires, replacing more than 14,000 mechanical fault indicators.

Besides monitoring outages, remote fault indicators can provide precise, instantaneous readings of two-way power flow — both into customers’ homes and businesses and then back out onto the grid from rooftop solar panels.

And understanding how much energy is flowing onto the grid from customers’ solar panels in real time will allow this energy to be better used to service other customers.

“Remote fault indicators will improve reliability for every SCE customer and support the expanded use of renewable energy in California to meet state environmental goals,” said Anderson.