Eyes on the Grid – The Sensor Revolution

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The New York Power Authority is in the vanguard of utilities turning to sophisticated sensors to better understand their billions of dollars of grid equipment – and provide for more resilient electric service.

Sponsored by
Mouser Electronics.


A vast multiplication of sensors deployed along far flung assets, is increasing the reliability of our  electric grid.

These changes are occurring across the map.

But a standout effort is being made by the New York Power Authority, which has set for itself the goal of becoming America’s first and pre-eminent digital utility.

Digital technology is believed to be the magic elixir when it comes to rolling back the number of outages that come from everything from massive weather events to wayward tree branches and squirrels scurrying into the wrong places. It is also key, many believe, to warding off cyberattacks by bad nations and criminals.

Outages cost our economy upwards of $200 billion a year in lost economic activity, a recent New York Times article reported.

Maine, Alaska and Louisiana have the most number of outages, while South and North Carolina and West Virginia have the longest total hours of outages in one recent year, according to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

outages by state
Maine and Alaska – with their wild winters – had the greatest number of electric power outages in 2016, while hurricane-prone South Carolina and North Carolina had the longest lasting outages that year, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

While New York state has about the best record when it comes to sustaining the fewest outages, lasting the least amount of time, of any state, NYPA is out to get even more reliable.

nypa gil quiniones

Gil Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, shows visitors the power wall at the authority’s new Integrated Smart Operations Center.

Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA’s president and CEO, said its sensor upgrades “sets a new standard in utility asset management.”

Operators will have the tools to oversee its vast deployment of transmission, substation and power plants, he said, while “making smart and efficient operating decisions real time.”

Quiniones said the enter effort is working hand-in-glove with Gov. Andrew Cuomo ‘s sweeping Reforming the Energy Vision – REV – to allow for more renewable, affordable energy in the Empire State.

NYPA has spent $6 million to date of an anticipated $55 million, and the program is expected to expand further, according to spokeswoman Lynn Smith.

The agency owns and operates a sprawling 1,400 miles of transmission lines.

It draws power from 16 units all the way from the far north of the state – with its St. Lawrence – FDR hydroelectric plant – to the west fringe of New York at its Niagara hydro facility – and on to the southernmost tip, with its Astoria Energy generation facility which burns oil and gas.

NYPA opened a $4 million Integrated Smart Operations Center at its White Plains headquarters the end of last year to serve as a monitoring and diagnostic center for all its assets – down to battery banks, cables and capacitors.

ricardo dasilva

Ricardo DaSilva, New York Power Authority vice president of strategic operations, speaking at the new operations center in White Plains, N.Y.

According to Ricardo DaSilva, New York Power Authority vice president of strategic operations, “our strategic vision is to provide better service to customers.”

“How can we do better asset management, anticipate issues, improve efficiency and productively?” DaSilva told Icons of Infrastructure.

Sensors are a key part of the answer.

He said his agency will go from monitoring 26,000 data points to monitoring an additional 90,000 through the addition of 1,000 sensors. Vendors who have assisted with the effort include GE, ABB and Siemens, he said.

“There are many utilities out there moving in this direction,” DaSilva said.

Indeed, the dominant investor-owned electric utility serving the state, Con Edison, is in a far-reaching effort to install 4.4 million smart meters in its service territory to gain greater visibility of its system down to its end customers. The effort started 1 ½ years ago and will be completed by 2023.

When done, it will provide “the ability to see more granular detail on how customers are using electricity,” said Matthew Ketschke, Con Edison senior vice president.


“…making smart and efficient operating decisions real time.” – Gil Quiniones


When it comes to the key elements of Con Edison’s electric grid – many assets in the crowded New York metropolitan area are underground – making sensor technology very valuable to stay on top of maintaining and operating unseen equipment, he said.

Matthew Ketschke

Matthew Ketschke, left, planning to install solar panels that will create energy for low income customers in New York. He is senior vice president of Con Edison customer energy solutions.

“We have 25,000 large network transformers, a dense, underground network, and we monitor every one,” Ketschke said.

In addition, the utility has moved toward real time monitoring of every circuit, he said.

Ever since devastating Hurricane Sandy, Con Edison like other utilities in the Northeast has hardened its assets. Stronger poles have been erected, strong wires have been unfurled. And new sensor technology is being deployed.

The end result, Ketschke said, in a period of increased storm virulence and outbreaks, the grid will be able to be ever more robust and resilient.

Many more lights that have gone out in past weather disasters will stay on when future devasting weather hits, he said.

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