Extra Sensory Perception
It’s 4 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm. Dozens of homes in a rural community are without
power. A utility company truck inches along a road trying to locate the problem with a spotlight
aimed at electric power lines. Did a falling tree limb break a line? Did a transformer malfunction?
Is the cause of the outage five miles away or 50?
Grid sensor installation projects are making answers to these types of questions more readily available. Smaller than a shoebox and equipped with GPS communications technology, grid
sensors attach to power lines and transmit data in real time to an electric company’s centralized
monitoring system, alerting operators to the exact location and nature of a problem. They can also
collect data that helps utilities integrate new energy sources into the grid.
“The level of detailed information we’re able to get from these sensors is remarkable,” says
Francis W. Peverly, vice president of operations, Orange and Rockland Utilities Inc., Pearl River,
New York, USA.
Opening Black Boxes
To safeguard its 1,350-square-mile ( 3,496-square-kilometer) power network in the states of New
York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Orange and Rockland (O&R) Utilities last year installed more
ROOTED IN TECHNOLOGY
A large oak tree in a New York, New York, USA park is now
working for the United States Forest Service. Part of a national
“smart forest” program to understand the effects of climate
change, the tree in the second largest park in the city’s Queens
borough collects fresh environmental data every 15 minutes.
In late 2014, the forest service completed a project to
outfit the tree with a webcam and tools to measure precipitation, humidity, air temperature, wind speed and direction,
and soil temperature and moisture. The benefits began
immediately: Data is wirelessly transmitted to an online
portal, where it is checked for accuracy. Daily webcam shots
and data are posted to the Smart Forest Network website,
which also displays real-time information from 19 other forest sites around the country.
The Smart Forest program is an important step in learning about changing environmental patterns and making that
information available to the public, say project leaders. Forest
Service officials hope to eventually incorporate “smart forest”
data into school curricula.
“We know relatively little about what’s going on in these
forest ecosystems. Eighty percent of the population lives in
urban areas, so understanding urban forest ecology is critical,”
forest service research ecologist Lindsey E. Rustad told The
New York Times. —Imani Mixon
we’re able to
get from these
—Francis W. Peverly, Orange
and Rockland Utilities Inc., Pearl
River, New York, USA