Using Tomorrow’s Technology Today
We have never been more connected than we are today. Everyone has a smart device, whether it be a smart phone, watch or tablet, and quite frankly, it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have the world at our fingertips. How did we ever function without Google searches, or knowing what that childhood friend we haven’t spoken to in 20 years had for dinner? Technology, simply put, has changed the way we live and function as a society and will continue to do so.
Staying on top of the latest technological advancements is key for every industry. If you don’t – you’ll surely slip behind. The energy industry is no different. Florida Power & Light Company has been on the forefront of technology, always looking for the latest trends and emerging tech to find new, innovative ways to deliver reliable service to our nearly 5 million customers. In the last seven years alone, our investments to build a stronger, smarter energy grid has increased reliability for our customers by more than 30 percent. Our service reliability is among the highest in the nation at a 99.98 percent. Below are some of the innovations I’m proud to say helped lead to our best-ever reliability performance in 2017.
Autonomous Substation Robot. Automotive companies are beginning to explore self-driving vehicles, and FPL is, too. But with an energy twist, of course. We’ve created a self-driving substation robot, which ensures our substations are working effectively and continue to deliver reliable service you can count on in good weather and bad. Each substation helps distribute power to thousands of customers, making them critical to the grid. With its four cameras, our robot inspects FPL substations all on its own. It’s equipped with advanced sensors and navigation systems to follow pre-set paths and navigate around equipment. It searches for unwanted guests, such as pesky animals, checks weather conditions, and most importantly, looks for issues in equipment. It has already proven to be beneficial for customers.
One robot recently identified a piece of equipment that was overheating. Our crew was then able to proactively fix the issue and prevent at least 10,000 customers from experiencing a power interruption. When it’s not performing regularly scheduled inspections, it docks in a doghouse-like shed and recharges its batteries. The robot can cover up to 10 miles of terrain on a single charge and is expected to reduce trips for our crews and improve reliability for you.
Drones. These small aircraft serve as our eye in the sky, if you will. FPL utilizes a fleet of 17 drones to help us inspect the day-to-day health of the energy grid, as well as speeding restoration efforts following severe weather and hurricanes. They’re built with everything from thermal to multi-spectral imaging and give us a unique perspective of equipment high off the ground. Drones are also a safe, cost-effective alternative to helicopters, and their compact size makes them perfect for those hard-to-reach areas. This allows us to provide crews with timely and accurate damage assessments, which in turn helps us restore power faster after a major storm.
Augmented Reality Hard Hats. We’re not just building a stronger grid today, we’re exploring technology that will bring you the power guy of tomorrow. The hard hat pictured to your left may look straight out of a sci-fi film, but they have a real-world application. It’s similar to the first-down yard line you see on TV during a football game. You are seeing more information on top of what is already there. This augmented reality hard hat will eventually provide FPL crews with important information about the equipment they are looking at without the need to look at paper documents, manuals or computer menus. Furthermore, it will help crews in the field dissect the grid and see it like never before. These smart interfaces could help in locating equipment that is hidden behind neighborhood vegetation, or overlay assembly and repair instructions on the physical hardware to save time that would otherwise be spent referencing manuals.
Smart Meters and Intelligent Devices. FPL has invested more than $3 billion since 2006 to build a stronger, smarter energy grid. As part of those investments, we’ve installed more than 5 million smart meters and more than 90,000 other intelligent devices across our service area to help monitor and manage the energy grid, detect and prevent power issues, and get life back to normal faster when outages do occur. These devices also help power FPL’s mobile application, Restoration Spatial View. This app, which was developed by FPL employees, puts important information about the grid in the palms of crews’ hands, helping them work more efficiently.
Smart Grid Diagnostics. You may often feel overwhelmed by your own onslaught of big data – text messages, emails and pictures. For engineers working in a smart grid diagnostic center, information overload has a whole new meaning. They receive millions of pieces of information 24/7/365 – data points and real-time predictive analytics gathered from all our smart grid devices to help them monitor and manage the energy grid. Similar to tests doctors use to aid in diagnosing an illness, energy companies collect and analyze equipment and electrical data to determine the health of its system. Our Smart Grid & Innovation team has studied the smart data generated by our myriad of intelligent devices to develop an award-winning program called Proactive Ticket Notification.
This program interprets smart grid data and alerts engineers back at the diagnostic center of issues customers aren’t aware of, allowing us to proactively fix the issue and avoid customer interruptions. Think of it as an EKG, which lets doctors find a heart problem before the patient knows there is one.
Automated Smart Switches. If you look closely, you’ll notice these intelligent devices perched up high on the power poles. FPL has installed more than 63,000 of these and will continue installing thousands more. This technology helps keep the power on and minimize the amount of people affected, if an outage occurs. The best thing about the smart technology in these switches is that it works remotely – allowing the switches to operate on their own to automatically reroute, or start and stop the flow of electricity if they sense a disturbance on the power line. For example, common causes of power flickers – momentary power interruptions that last less than one minute – are tree branches or palm fronds that touch overhead power lines. These smart devices sense when that happens and automatically reroute or turn power off, isolating the problem so fewer people experience the outage. When the vegetation is cleared or the disturbance is gone, the switch automatically turns the power back on. Thanks to these smart switches, we have been able to avoid more than 4.6 million customer interruptions since 2011.
Fault Current Indicators. The same way cars have indicators that inform drivers when the car needs a tune-up or oil change, energy companies use tools that let them know when and where work is needed on the energy grid. A fault current indicator (FCI) is a smart device that delivers real-time information about the energy grid to crews who use the data to identify the location and nature of a problem. With these devices, crews are remotely and quickly directed to a more precise location of a trouble spot – a function that used to be manual and time consuming. Getting to the right place faster means crews can work more efficiently. For the customer, it means more affordable and reliable energy service. You can think of a fault current indicator like a health and fitness tracker many people wear on their wrists today. The FCI essentially tracks the health of the system and delivers information crews use to intercept a problem before it becomes an outage.
Substation Flood Monitors. Tropical systems are multifaceted forces of nature and produce high winds, tornadoes, intense rain, and flooding and storm surge. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy demonstrated this fact by bringing major storm surge to lower Manhattan, which is not normally prone to flooding, and caused widespread power outages. FPL analyzes tropical storms and hurricanes that impacted Florida and elsewhere to find rooms for improvement. As a lesson learned from Sandy, FPL’s commitment to building a stronger, smarter grid now includes real-time flood monitors at 233 substations that are most susceptible to storm surge. These flood monitors help mitigate damage to a substation due to storm surge, which in turn improves restoration times following major storms.
Again, we’re not just an energy company – we’re a technology company. Our continued investments in innovative technologies has helped FPL become the most reliable energy company in Florida and recognized as having the best comprehensive reliability performance in the U.S. – nearly 50 percent better than the national average. However, we are never satisfied, and our Smart Grid & Innovation team will continue to look for new and innovative ways to deliver reliable service you can count on in good weather and bad.
To meet some of the innovators, visit FPL.com/innovation