Published 10:16 am Thursday, January 28, 2016
Submitted by Brittany Tann
Construction is now underway on Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s $4 million fiber optic network, a major undertaking that will improve distribution system reliability and pave the way for bringing broadband technology to the northeastern North Carolina region.
The Roanoke Connect initiative involves building a fiber optic cable to connect the co-op’s 12 substations to each other, with the goal of communicating vital system information more efficiently to headquarters. Data Watt Solutions, based in Linwood, N.C., is leading the construction phase, which is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year.
“This will be a game changer for our electric utility operations, as it will allow us to significantly reduce system losses and improve outage management,” said Roanoke Electric Co-op CEO Curtis Wynn. “Also, with this world-class broadband technology comes new opportunities to bolster economic development and improve the local economy. The potential benefits of having high-speed internet can go a long way toward enhancing the quality of life, especially in our underserved rural communities.”
Ninety-five percent of the construction, involving 107 miles of the circuit throughout the co-op’s service territory, will take place on existing pole lines, with the remainder underground.
George Stamper, the co-op’s manager of engineering who oversees the project, said the anticipated improvement in system reliability will be unparalleled.
“It’s like going from driving a Ford Model T to a Tesla,” he said. “It’s that remarkable.”
The co-op currently operates an automated meter reading infrastructure system that uses a power line carrier as the communications medium between the member-owners on the distribution system and the co-op substations. Data from the co-op’s current operating systems is downloaded from the substations to its corporate office via telephone lines, a method proven to be slow and often unreliable.
In contrast, the fiber optic cable carries light pulses that will allow information to be relayed at the speed of light.
“A process that could take three hours on a phone line will be reduced to a matter of minutes,” Stamper said. “We hope we can reduce outage time and improve reliability through this high-speed data transmission.”
An added benefit of this fiber optic network is that it will be built with adequate capacity to support other beneficial uses over time.
Once deployed, the technology will eventually allow local homes, businesses and municipal systems access to high-speed broadband. That service will be offered through a participating internet service provider and paid for by those who opt to use it.
Roanoke Electric Cooperative is an electric utility providing service to 14,000 members in Bertie, Hertford, Halifax, Northampton, Gates, Perquimans and Chowan counties.