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'Self-healing technology' helps Duke Energy Florida withstand the power of hurricanes

 glowing screens and monitors
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF Public Media
The glowing Distribution Control Center for Duke Energy Florida

That technology allows company technicians to troubleshoot just about any power disruption by clicking on a screen at their St. Petersburg control center.

If a hurricane hits the state again this year, Duke Energy Florida is ready to respond to power outages with the push of a button.

It's called the Distribution Control Center. From a nondescript building in northern St. Petersburg, they can respond to any emergencies in their 13,000 square-mile service area in Florida.

The mantra here is what they describe as "self-healing" technology. That means they don't have to roll out a bucket truck during an emergency or a hurricane — just reroute electricity by clicking on a glowing screen.

 woman pointing at screen
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF Public Media
Duke Energy spokeswoman Audrey Stasko points to their control screens

"Self-healing technology helped to avoid nearly 500,000 customer outages. And it saved customers close to 4 million hours of total lost outage time," said spokeswoman Audrey Stasko. "It can automatically reroute, it can avoid an outage altogether, and it's all being done while you might not even realize."

Mark Ward is a Distribution Control Center shift supervisor. He said dedicated teams monitor the system from here around the clock.

"Typically, what we like to have is roughly 12 dispatchers on the floor at any given time, covering the whole state of Florida," Ward said. "We have four pods of four, so we actually have 16 desks. We have alternate desks in the back if need be. But we're on rotating shifts. So we do have some eight hour shifts built into it, but for the most part we're on 12 — 12 on, 12 off. And we rotate from day shift to night shift as well."

He said the building can withstand a Category 3 hurricane.

Duke Energy Florida serves nearly 2 million people in a service area that covers nearly half the state.

 man sitting at control screens
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF Public Media
Mark Ward, a shift supervisor, shows off the electricity transmission monitors

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.