NC State is currently undergoing a $60 million power distribution system upgrade project called “Power Forward.” The project aims to upgrade the current electrical system on the central and north campus in four phases, with the fourth phase to be completed by 2025.
Parts of the current distribution system are up to 60 years old and need upgrading. The goal of the Power Forward project is to do just that, ensuring that campus power is defined by four words placed prominently on the project website and on the panels found on campus: safe, reliable, self-healing, and future-proof.
Doug Morton, the Associate Vice-Chancellor for Facilities, explained the meaning of some of these words as part of the ultimate goal of the project.
“It will be safer for electricians; it will be tougher, which means it will be in sealed protective ducts and large, open manholes so you can see what’s going on there,” Morton said. “The switches will be above ground and enclosed in a metal box and will also be what we call self-healing. It’s a bit of a misnomer. It’s really self-isolating.
This self-isolating system that Morton refers to is known as a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. SCADA systems allow users to remotely collect and process real-time data, interact directly with problems through human-machine interface (HMI) software, and record any problems in a log file.
Morton explains how the system will ultimately save electricians time and create shorter power outages.
“[If] a squirrel chews that wire, that short in the circuit, instead of tearing down the whole system it will tear down a very small part of the system because the switches that we have in there will detect where there is a fault and the system isolate this fault automatically,” Morton said. “Then when we send electricians to fix it, they know exactly where to go and how it’s been impacted.”
In addition to focusing on what currently exists, Morton said the project also aims to create additional space via empty cable conduit to accommodate the growing campus.
The Power Forward project began with the development of a master plan about 10 years ago. Although the overall goal of each phase is achieved, subsequent phases are still under development by the design team.
“So the Chancellor helped us find the money from campus resources, primarily what we call the setup and administrative fees on research grants.” Morton said. “We hired a design company to show us what it would take, and then a construction manager to do it.”
The project is currently in its first phase, which is expected to be completed in 2023. At present, construction is focused on establishing a conduit bank, which is an underground route for cables housed in conduits . Jake Terrell, the project manager, provided the current location of construction which began at the Sullivan Cellular Substation.
“We get our power, ultimately a big Duke Energy delivery point, we cut off the voltage, and then it goes through these wires through the conduit bank,” Terrell said. “We’re going down Sullivan Drive with the conduit bench, and eventually we’ll head into Dan Allen, then we’ll head south on Dan Allen and into Western Boulevard.”
Asked about the effects this project will have on faculty, staff and students, Morton and Terrell said construction detours and power outages are inevitable. However, Morton said those who will be affected will be notified ahead of time due to the slow process of trenching for the conduit bank and replacing the cable.
“It’s very slow,” Morton said. “You’ll see it come into your neighborhood, you’ll see the disruptions and the signs that speak to safety, resilience, self-healing and sustainability. That graphic will be in place, and it’ll be obvious to people that it’s coming. .
Terrell explained how academic and commercial buildings will be affected and notified. He said construction work and power outages would also come as no surprise to those working in the buildings.
“We will identify target dates for these transitions in advance, coordinate with building occupants to understand their needs,” Terrell said. “If something is deemed absolutely critical we will provide a generator to back it up, but even plugging in a generator is not always seamless. … There will be power outages, but we strive to make it as seamless as possible.
To learn more about the Power Forward Project and sign up to receive traffic impact emails, visit the project website. There are also questionnaires located on the website for facility liaisons and business leaders to fill out about concerns about research and projects in their buildings.