Business

MidAmerican Energy adds more 'smart sensors' in Iowa City

A MidAmerican Energy crew installs sensors on a power line (MidAmerican Energy)
A MidAmerican Energy crew installs sensors on a power line (MidAmerican Energy)
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MidAmerican Energy Co. plans to add more than 150 of its “smart meters” in Iowa City and other cities in its service area in the coming months in an effort to shorten outage times.

MidAmerican employees will clip the sensors to power lines in their service areas during the next two months, which detects when electricity stops running in a line between one sensor and another.

When an outage is detected, the sensor sends details to the company’s control room to dispatch a repair crew immediately.

Spokesman Geoff Greenwood said the Des Moines-based company began installing sensors last year, and plans to continue putting them up into next year — until they fully cover MidAmerican’s customer area.

More than 200 sensors already are in place, the utility said in a news release.

He said MidAmerican doesn’t know exactly how much the utility will save in costs in sending out a crew to locate the source of an outage because it’s still in the middle of deploying the sensors.

In addition to Iowa City, MidAmerican covers electricity customers in almost all the westernmost third of the state, a portion of north-central Iowa stretching from Fort Dodge to Waterloo, the Quad Cities area, Fort Madison, and a swath of central Iowa, including Des Moines and Ottumwa.

The number of additional sensors the company plans to install include:

• Council Bluffs — 2

• Des Moines — 49

• Fort Dodge — 13

• Quad Cities — 5

• Sioux City — 15

• Waterloo — 22.

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Greenwood said the sensors will notify crews of the exact cause and location of the outage instead of workers having to search for it themselves on the road. This will reduce the amount of time between when the outage occurs and when it is repaired.

“In particular, if you have a situation where it’s dark or there’s a thunderstorm or a winter storm or rough terrain, this greatly speeds up our response time,” he said.

Greenwood said the company also will install sensors on power lines in some non-urban areas

“In a rural area, this may involve very long spans between one substation and another substation,” he said. “By putting the sensors out on the lines, it saves us the driving time to an area and physically observing miles of power lines to determine where the interruption has taken place.”

Alliant Energy spokesman Mike Wagner said the electrical provider is in early discussions about installing smart sensors on power lines in its service territory.

However, he said the “smart meters” the utility has been installing on customers’ homes can notify Alliant crews if there’s an outage at a specific property. If there are multiple outages reported in a specific area, that would be a signal of an overall outage.

Alliant also uses the meters to remotely determine customer’s power usage without requiring an employee to physically read each meter every month.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; dan.mika@thegazette.com

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