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How Synchrophasors are Bringing the Grid into the 21st Century

April 16, 2014 - 12:10pm


Power lines carry electricity across Washington State. | Photo courtesy of the Energy Department.

Power lines carry electricity across Washington State. | Photo courtesy of the Energy Department.

Have you ever heard of a synchrophasor? It may sound like a word out of science fiction, but these mailbox-sized devices are already changing the electrical grid as we know it.

The grid was born over a century ago, at a time when our needs were simpler and our demand much lower. More complex needs are putting a heavy strain on the aging infrastructure, which is why we need to innovate and update our grid so it’s ready for the demands of today.

That’s where synchrophasors come in.

A synchrophasor is a sophisticated monitoring device that can measure the instantaneous voltage, current and frequency at specific locations on the grid. This gives operators a near-real-time picture of what is happening on the system, and allows them to make decisions to prevent power outages.

Just yesterday I attended the dedication of the New York Independent System Operator’s (NYISO) smart grid and control center, a $75 million project that will use these devices to locate grid problems at an early stage and share these data with their regional partners. This should mean fewer blackouts for the State of New York. I would like to congratulate NYISO for being a technology leader.

And not only will these synchrophasors help prevent outages, but they also save money. By providing more accurate and timely data on system limits, synchrophasors make the grid more reliable and efficient, thereby reducing planning and operations costs.

The Department has worked with utilities across the country to increase the number of synchrophasors five-fold -- from less than 200 in 2009 to over 1,700 today. And this is just a part of our commitment to making a smarter, more resilient grid a reality.

In September 2013, we announced up to $9 million in funding to facilitate rapid response to unusual grid conditions. As a result, utilities will be able to better detect and head off potential blackouts, while improving day-to-day grid reliability and helping with the integration of clean renewable sources of energy onto the grid.

If you’d like to learn more about our investments in the smart grid and how they are improving our electrical infrastructure, please visit the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability’s website or