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PPL celebrates 100 years

PPL Electric Utilities crews install smart grid equipment along a power line. This allows automatic switching and rerouting of power in the event of a problem, which means increased reliability for customers. As a result of using this technology since 2015, PPL recently announced it has avoided one million customer outages.

Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. was born in 1920 through the consolidation of eight electric companies. And while electric current itself hasn’t changed – it’s still the flow of electrons through conductors – how it gets delivered, how it’s managed and how outages get fixed is a different tale.

Combined, PPL’s family of companies, including PPL Electric Utilities, Louisville Gas and Electric, Kentucky Utilities and Western Power Distribution in the U.K., serve more than 10 million customers with about 218,000 miles of electric lines – long enough to wrap around the Earth’s equator eight times. Today’s PPL Electric Utilities grid covers a land area larger than New Jersey with 50,000 miles of power lines serving 1.4 million customers in 29 counties throughout Pennsylvania.

Today’s customers benefit from a grid that’s more reliable than ever.

The grid of today is vastly improved by digital technology, by data analytics and by tools and systems unrecognizable to line workers and engineers of past generations. Smart grid technology allows remote power switching and restoration, reducing the scope of an outage. Advanced meters send usage data over secure radio networks and enable customers real-time views of how much power they’re consuming. Drones with specialized cameras can inspect power lines and send back real-time data.

Data in past decades, before the advent of smart grid technology and equipment, was estimated, while today the equipment provides real-time data.

A truck from Lycoming Edison Co., a utility acquired by Pennsylvania Power & Light in 1923.

Gone are the days of crews going from manhole to manhole, using electrical probes to gather information for the loading on an underground low-tension network. Today’s network can be accessed remotely to determine real-time loading and maximum loading.

“PPL Electric Utilities has been a leader in the industry,” says Tracie Witter, PPL Electric Utilities Regional Affairs Director. “For example, the company was one of the first to implement storm modeling for outages in the 1960s. With today’s equipment, we know who is out and where to look for the trouble.”

Smart grid implementation across the service territory, including things like PPL Electric Utilities’ new advanced meters, provides valuable, real-time information about what’s happening on the grid.

PPL recently passed a significant reliability milestone with its smart grid, avoiding one million customer outages since 2015. Collectively, it saved customers 100 million minutes in the dark, or about 190 years of total time. That level of smart grid success likely has no equal in the U.S. utility industry, says Witter.

In the Lock Haven area, PPL Electric Utilities continues to make investments to improve reliability. In 2016, PPL completed a rebuild of the lines between Jersey Shore and Lock Haven that dated back to the 1920s. The 12.5-mile project went through an area where pole locations were close to existing homes and a very winding road. Upgrading this line was vital for greater reliability in the region.

As part of the rebuilding process, PPL rerouted a section of the line around Castanea because the former line was located along an extremely narrow and winding roadway. PPL also constructed a new 69-kv switchyard in Castanea Township. This new modern switchyard replaced an older substation.

PPL employees are also working with Lock Haven University on a project aimed at improving the university’s maintenance program and overall reliability. The plan is to serve the university with a second source of power. That way, the power can be switched from one source to another, helping to keep the lights on for faculty and students.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PPL is working differently, but just as effectively to continue delivering safe, reliable power.

“For over 100 years, PPL has consistently found new and innovative ways to deliver energy more efficiently, reliably and affordably,” says Witter. “Our commitment to putting the customer first combined with our ability to adapt to changing market conditions and customer needs has allowed us to continually evolve to help power economic growth and thriving communities.”

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