More Than Power Lines

December 2021

For more than 80 years, Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative’s (SVEC’s) system has provided affordable, reliable electricity to our members. Over time, that electric system has grown to encompass more than 4,000 miles of distribution lines, about 80,000 poles, and 14 substations serving over 27,000 consumers.

What members may not realize is that the cooperative also maintains two other networks crucial to the operation of our electric grid. SVEC’s communications and data operations are just as robust as the electric infrastructure they support. They not only keep our electric system running day to day, but they also help crews work efficiently and respond quickly to any problems members may have.

Communication is Key

The pillars of SVEC’s communications system are 15 towers, one at the main office and 14 at substations across the cooperative’s 2,100-square-mile service area. These towers allow our control center, substations, and devices in the field to communicate with each other via microwaves.

The towers also keep SVEC crews in touch through two-way radio communication. Since radio signals are generally limited to what is within an operator’s line of sight, the cooperative also has three repeaters strategically located across its service area to boost the signal so crews are never out of reach. While most day-to-day operations are handled over radio, crews also have mobile phones as a backup.

Each cooperative employee also carries an iPad for quick access to important information. With the tablet, crews can receive and close service tickets on the go, check system maps for any special instructions about a member’s property, and access important files on SVEC’s intranet. These devices also allow crews to check and update work history at a particular location, keeping other crews and office staff up to date when working with the same consumer-members.

All of these tools add up to more efficient service for you. When crews can receive their next work assignment without driving 30 minutes back to the office, it means faster response times and lower costs for the co-op.

Information Means Power

The most important element of SVEC’s data network is one consumer-members can find right at home: their electric meter. The cooperative can automatically read each one remotely, rather than having to send someone to do it visually.

Operators at SVEC’s headquarters can even send a signal to a meter to check if the power is on. Additionally, the cooperative is currently testing the use of the next generation of electric meters, which will be able to notify operators of an outage automatically. In time, that means SVEC may be able to dispatch repair crews before consumer-members can even call to report an outage.

Automated switching can also shorten many outages drastically without having to wait for crews to make repairs. This technology can detect faults on the grid, isolate them, and back-feed electricity to bypass the source of the fault until repairs are made. As a result, power is often restored for many consumer-members much more quickly.

Service When It Counts

SVEC can also keep track of the location of each crew in real-time with automatic vehicle tracking. Using GPS data, dispatchers always know which crews are closest to an outage, so they can deploy them for the fastest possible repairs. Vehicle tracking is also useful after a major storm, allowing SVEC to keep accurate records of how much time crews worked in specific counties. This information helps local counties when applying for reimbursements from FEMA.

Just like SVEC’s radio communications are backed up by cellular service, the cooperative’s internet service has multiple redundancies built in to make sure its network never goes down. The cooperative subscribes to internet service from Windstream and Comcast, as well as cellular and satellite networks, so that if one service provider goes down, others are there to pick up the slack.

The computer network at SVEC’s headquarters is even served from two directions by a fiber optic ring, so that if one side is damaged the cooperative can continue to function. Two years ago, key servers were also moved to a storm-hardened building graded for up to 150 mph winds, ensuring that SVEC’s network can remain intact even during a hurricane.

Each of these measures is the result of years of experience with storms. SVEC does not let a lesson pass without acting on it, whether the knowledge was learned firsthand in our service area or picked up while helping repair the systems of other co-ops. Together, they contribute to the reliability, affordability, and efficiency that SVEC consumer-members have come to expect.