Smart Wires Inc.

Guest article: EPM’s journey from pilot to large-scale projects

April 10, 2024

Spanish available

Leading utility Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) is always looking for new innovative solutions that can help solve their critical grid challenges in Colombia and the other countries in Latin America where it owns infrastructure. In this article, Giovanni Marín Avalos, Professional Planning and Performance at EPM, explains how EPM pioneered the use of advanced power flow control devices—SmartValve™—in Latin America.

EPM, the largest utility company in Colombia and with a presence in six countries in Latin America, has been monitoring the Smart Wires advanced power flow control (APFC) technology since its inception as a prototype at Georgia Tech. In 2017, EPM first got in touch with Smart Wires to establish a collaboration and explore the possibility of progressing a pilot project.

During the talks, Smart Wires launched their next generation APFC, SmartValve™, and in 2021, despite the difficult circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, the first installation of this technology in Latin America was carried out. This pilot project involved the installation of SmartValves in the Envigado 110 kV substation of EPM. The pilot lasted six months, during which several hypotheses were tested, including not only their capability to control power flows but also their other capabilities and their suitability to be easily and quickly installed.

A system of synchronized phasor measurements was implemented to measure the efficiency of the change in the transmission line’s apparent impedance by using SmartValves. With this system, it was possible to measure the change in the line’s reactance when the SmartValves injected a voltage in quadrature with the line current. The results showed that the SmartValves performed as expected in this testing. It was also possible to validate the performance of the SmartValves during system disturbances, showing that they do not impact the performance of the protection systems during fault scenarios.

As APFC had not been used in the national interconnected system of Colombia before, the pilot required a change in regulation before it could be installed. The energy regulator, CREG, and the National Energy Council approved the use of APFC on the national system after considering the substantial potential benefits of using this solution for the wider electricity sector. This meant that the pilot project could proceed as planned, and if successful there could be future APFC projects across Colombia.

The pilot also served for our internal departments at EPM to gain experience with how SmartValves are modelling in network planning, procured, integrated into our system, and operated, in advance of a larger-scale project.

The pilot results created enough confidence both within EPM and the Colombian Electricity sectors that other actors in the sector in Colombia could use the results of the pilot to progress their own APFC projects. In fact, the pilot led EPM to be awarded the AMBAR 2021 award for Research and Development in the sector by the Colombian Association of Energy Distributors ASOCODIS in the Innovation and Technological Development category.

The pilot’s success led to the Aburrá Valley projects where EPM deployed 12 SmartValves on three 110 kV transmission lines in 2022 to control power flows, avoid overloads, and unlock capacity for more than 400 MW of small hydroelectric power plants, i.e. conventional renewable energies, to meet the forecast growth in demand. As part of this project, EPM developed a change management plan with a series of technological, knowledge and administrative tasks that would allow a successful technological incorporation.

Since the SmartValves were deployed in this project, the deployments have proven to be a key element in the operation of EPM’s regional transmission system. They provide the independent system operator, XM, with a powerful and versatile tool for optimizing the operation of the national interconnected system which has increasing levels of renewable generation.

In conclusion, Smart Wires’ APFC technology allows for optimizing the transmission infrastructure, redirecting flows from heavily loaded lines to others with available transmission capacity, avoiding capital-intensive reconductoring or sometimes avoiding the construction of new lines. With this technology, it is possible to guarantee the supply of reliable electricity to meet demand and also to bring great environmental, social, and land management benefits by often avoiding the need to construct additional infrastructure on new sites. In this project, the SmartValve deployments were designed to fit in the existing available space at the Envigado 110 kV and Guayabal 110 kV substations.

The success of Smart Wires technology in EPM paved the way for other companies in the sector to use this technology at scale. In fact, the central system planning agency, UPME, approved the use of APFC in multiple projects in the national transmission expansion plans in projects proposed by multiple electric utilities, some of which are already commissioned and providing benefits in Colombia.

If you would like to learn more about this project, download the EPM Aburrá Valley case study or get in touch!

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