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All About GPS
High-Energy Transmission with High-Precision GPS Time
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For most of us, the only time we think about the systems that supply our electrical power is when they fail us. Street lights winking off, the VCR flashing 12:00, or flicking a switch with no result are a few ways we're reminded that there's a fallible organization responsible for providing our energy.

Given the amount of power a power company supplies, the number of customers they service, and the high-precision timing that the generation and transmission of electricity requires, it's surprising that power doesn't fail more often. Increasingly, GPS is becoming the tool that is used to provide that timing.

Since 1988, the Bonneville Power Administration in the U. S. Pacific Northwest has been integrating GPS technology into its operations. As an integral part of any electrical operations system, timing is the technology on which many of its functions are based. Generation and power transfers are planned in advance. Utilities coordinate with each other by making adjustments on a GPS timed schedule. Outages for maintenance are scheduled to ensure that they do not interrupt reliable power delivery. Disturbance records are aligned with recorded GPS time tags for analysis and comparison with related information. Price varies with demand, so even billing is based on time. Advanced applications like locating power line faults (short circuits) and real-time phase measurement require continuous timing with high precision. And bad timing can throw a monkey wrench into all these operations.

BPA administrator, Kenneth Martin puts it all in perspective. "With help from GPS we are finding ways to develop a comprehensive system that meets the needs of new applications while continuing to serve existing systems. In short, we have found that GPS is the universal answer for power system timing, meeting all requirements of accuracy, reliability, coverage, and cost."

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