The Wire

Energy news from Omaha Public Power District


Fiber project shifts focus to improving information flow

November 3, 2021 | Jason Kuiper | T&D
Fiber optic network cable

OPPD officials knew the utility’s Fiber Network Expansion was a big undertaking, but also one that had to be done right. As telecommunications companies prepared to phase out the old land lines the utility used for communications, OPPD found a solution.

The project is entering its second phase. This phase targets a number of areas of increased data traffic congestion and expands capacity along those pathways. The second phase also increases fiber network reliability and resiliency through additional backup fiber pathways. Those pathways act as detours for congested data traffic arteries.

For instance, when storms interrupt data traffic or when maintenance work needs to be done on the system, data flow can be re-routed instantly while maintaining critical communications.

This second phase of the project focuses on strengthening communication pathways, said Jim Helmberger, a principal engineer at OPPD. If phase one was like constructing a spider web, phase two is adding segments to the web, he said.

Strengthening the network

“Phase two strengthens any weak segments and adds segments where they are missing to help reinforce and prevent loss of larger sections when trouble occurs,” he said. “‘Trouble’ can be storm damage to overhead fiber lines, dig-in damage to underground lines, outages for maintenance, equipment failures and other similar events.”

Helmberger, one of the early team members involved in the project, said OPPD considered many options for the first phase. Ultimately, the utility decided to expand its own fiber network. With good planning, an aggressive schedule, and a strong effort, OPPD extended this network to nearly every facility OPPD owns. In three years, the utility installed about 215 miles of fiber optic line and another 70 miles of underground fiber.

Now fiber connects 95 of 104 substations. Nine substations require only basic communications and are remote enough that  wireless networks such as radio links or cellular service are adequate. In a two-month time frame, once the fiber network was ready, 144 circuits were migrated over to the new network. That meant installing and tying into new fiber ‘transport’ technologies and equipment cabinets, said Gina Miller, project manager at OPPD.

Types of communication

The new network expansion serves three types of communications. The first is the standard voice and data services like telephone communications that connect substations.

The second type connects District power grid equipment with the utility’s Energy Control Center (ECC). This allows operators at the ECC and others to manage the grid by monitoring and controlling all equipment within substations.

The third affects protective relaying. Relays detect faults or problems on equipment or on the transmission lines that go into and out of the substations. When a fault occurs, relays communicate at high speeds to trip circuit breakers and clear the line to avoid damage.

All three are crucial to the safe and reliable flow of power for OPPD and its customers.

The fiber network expansion effort laid a strong foundation for the District going forward.  The new fiber network will have future implications for OPPD’s Smart Grid and Automated Metering Infrastructure projects, said Brian Gragert, manager of Business Technology Network Engineering.

“We are positioning ourselves to support today’s services while also looking ahead to services and capabilities we know are coming our way in the future,” Gragert said.


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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

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