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Measuring the Evolving Grid: 3 Questions for Waynesboro Site Manager Eric Spalding

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Alstom’s U.S. communications team recently sat down with Eric Spalding, Unit Managing Director of our Instrument Transformer manufacturing facility in Waynesboro, Georgia. The facility, located approximately 150 miles southeast of Atlanta, employees over 260 people and provides technology vital to measuring the performance of America’s power grids.

Here’s what Eric had to say…

Q: Can you tell us about the technology Alstom’s Waynesboro team produces?

Sure. To keep things short and simple, we build equipment that helps utilities monitor and measure the electricity moving across electrical grids. Like I always say…if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Our main product line consists of instrument transformers . The transmission of electricity happens at extremely high voltages ranging from 72,000 to 765,000 volts. To put that into context, remember that electricity flows into most homes at 120 volts. Traditional meters cannot withstand such extreme voltages, so utilities install instrument transformers in substations to step-down transmission voltages so they can be easily measured.  A different type of instrument transformer based on the same basic concept is used to measure current.

Manufacturing instrument transformers is a very precise operation because any deviation from its design could result in an inaccurate measurement. Alstom Grid’s team here in Waynesboro has been building these critically-important devices for over 20 years. The strong field performance of our products underscores the intense focus on quality that has helped our business grow steadily over that time.

Today, we have more than 260 employees at the Waynesboro site, and 90% of our products are shipped to U.S. customers.

Q: What trends in the market are impacting operations for the Waynesboro team?

The power grid is becoming more complex, and every day we push the envelope in terms of its operational performance. As that complexity increases, so does the job of measuring and monitoring the grid’s behavior. Every time a new wind farm comes online for example, it creates a new grid connection that utilities and operators need to monitor in order to ensure a reliable flow of electricity.

So, as the grid becomes smarter, we have been delivering instrument transformers and other products so utilities can make decisions based on near real-time system measurements and make sure the right amount of electricity gets to the right place at the right time. Our equipment also helps electricity network operators make sure the grid is performing as efficiently as possible, and that we are using the highest possible percentage of the power we generate.

As the grid has become more dynamic, we also have been combining our instrument transformers with Alstom-built circuit breakers and measuring devices to create packaged systems that protect customers’ substations from power surges.

Finally, it’s important to note that our technology has evolved over time. Here in Waynesboro, we build conventional instrument transformers. Our sister facility in Phoenix, Arizona produces the latest generation of digital instrument transformers. Those devices use fiber optic cables to measure current on the grid, digitize those measurements and then transmit them back to utility control rooms where they are integrated into the latest generation of Smart Grid management and control systems.

Q: Any recent news or accomplishments you’d like to share?

Yes, actually. I mentioned that our work involves a high-degree of precision, but it also requires the use of materials and resources that can impact our environment if not carefully and systematically managed.

Last year, we launched an effort to make our operations compliant with the ISO 14001 standard for environmental management.

The project, led by our full-time Environmental Health and Safety Manager and 2-person support team, touched every person at the Waynesboro site. We underwent a facility wide risk-assessment and set about addressing 29 different task groups with 100 specific tasks per group and as many as 6 sub-tasks per line item.

Everyone in this organization has stepped up to the plate and I’m proud to report that after an 11 month overhaul of our day-to-day operations, we recently received our ISO 140001 certification!

Alstom technology controls 40% of the power flowing on U.S. electricity grids.