Distribution Grid of the Future

A crew installs a TripSaver automated reclosing device as part of the JCP&L Reliability Plus Infrastructure Investment Program.

February 12, 2021

As highlighted in FirstEnergy’s 2021 Strategic Plan, we are anticipating a future where every vital link to homes and businesses – electricity, natural gas, water and ultra-fast broadband access – will merge into one integrated system. FirstEnergy is working toward our vision for the grid of the future: an enhanced distribution platform that delivers customer value through a stronger, more empowering energy experience.

To prepare for this more dynamic, intelligent and secure distribution system, we are strengthening our grid’s foundation by building a smarter communications network and replacing or upgrading aging equipment. As part of our Distribution Grid of the Future program, we are also evaluating a wide range of new technologies and ways to modernize our distribution system, including energy storage and microgrids.

To make progress toward our vision, FirstEnergy’s 10 regulated distribution companies are planning infrastructure investments of $1.7 billion per year through 2023, of which approximately $350 million to $400 million will be invested annually to modernize the grid. Across our service territory, we are working to upgrade our system with more advanced automation and smarter technologies to prepare the distribution grid of the future. For example, our Ohio Grid Modernization Program, Pennsylvania Long-Term Infrastructure Improvement Plans and JCP&L Reliability Plus Infrastructure Investment Program are designed to ensure enhanced reliability for our customers. It is our goal that by 2025, the average customer will see a 5%, or nine-minute, reduction in the duration of service interruptions, compared to our 2019 baseline.

Our regulatory strategy for these distribution program investments involves leveraging recovery mechanisms that enable us to pursue cost recovery for a specific distribution program. This strategy ensures we can make critical infrastructure improvements on our distribution system in a timely fashion with appropriate regulatory approval.

In the first in a series of articles highlighting distribution program investments across our service territory, we look at JCP&L Reliabilty Plus.

Projects Strengthen, Modernize N.J. Power System

JCP&L has completed more than $97 million in major projects that included infrastructure, vegetation management and distribution automation enhancements to its electric distribution system. The investment was part of an 18-month plan designed to enhance electric service reliability and minimize the impact of outages for New Jersey customers.

The Reliability Plus program built on service reliability enhancements made by JCP&L in previous years through its annual base capital investments. Projects were completed between June 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2020.

“We took great care to ensure that JCP&L Reliability Plus focused on the enhancements that have the most reliability benefit for our more than one million customers,” said Jim Fakult, president, JCP&L. “These projects will help to reduce the frequency of power outages, mitigate potential tree damage during severe weather events, and modernize our electric grid to provide more flexibility and resiliency for the electrical system in New Jersey.”

Key JCP&L Reliability Plus projects included:

  • Overhead circuit upgrades – JCP&L installed over 1,700 automated reclosing devices on power lines across its service territory to help reduce the frequency and duration of service interruptions (see Jan. 14 Dispatch story for more details). The company also removed overhanging limbs near more than 1,300 miles of JCP&L power lines and in targeted areas to address tree damage and trimming in areas of the system impacted during severe weather. This tree trimming work supplemented JCP&L’s ongoing vegetation management program.
  • Distribution automation – Customers will benefit from the installation of technology that can automatically detect damage on the system, safely isolate it and reroute power flow around damaged equipment, reducing the number of customers out of service until repairs are made. JCP&L also added communications equipment to aid real-time monitoring of the distribution system to promote more rapid service restoration.
  • Substation reliability enhancement – Equipment upgrades were made to protect and modernize substations, making them less susceptible to storm damage. These upgrades included flood mitigation efforts and the installation of two specially designed flood walls in 2020 to protect substations serving customers in Sussex and Essex counties. JCP&L also purchased a new 115-kilovolt mobile substation that can be transported to a location near a substation experiencing an outage to help restore customers more rapidly while permanent repairs are made.

Project workers test the installation of a floodwall vehicle gate that automatically tilts up to close under flood conditions at JCP&L’s Canoe Brook substation.

In 2021, JCP&L will continue its ongoing service reliability efforts with capital investments aimed at equipment upgrades, as well as its annual vegetation management efforts and continued inspection and maintenance work to help enhance system resiliency and keep power flowing to customers during severe weather.