FirstEnergy says it is installing technology to modernize its electric system in western Pennsylvania to limit the number and duration of power outages.

Work includes installation of new, automated equipment and technology in distribution substations and along power lines serving more than 25,000 Penn Power customers in parts of Lawrence, Mercer and Butler counties.

"Upgrading our substations is the first line of defense in preventing power outages because they supply the electricity that flows across our power lines to our customers," said Ed Shuttleworth, regional president of Penn Power and Ohio Edison. "Think of a substation like a sprinkler. Each stream of water coming out of the sprinkler hits different parts of the lawn, just like individual power lines feed electricity to various neighborhoods."

The utility is upgrading electrical equipment in two substations in Lawrence and Butler counties as well as modernizing the power lines coming from those facilities.

FirstEnergy says hundreds of homes and businesses in the area will benefit from the installation of new automated reclosing devices in the substations and along the power lines that will help limit the frequency, duration, and scope of service interruptions.

The devices work like a circuit breaker in a home that shuts off power when trouble occurs, with the added benefit of automatically reenergizing a substation or power line within seconds for certain types of outages to keep power flowing. The technology is safer and more efficient because it often allows utility personnel to automatically restore service to customers rather than sending a crew to investigate.

If the device senses a more serious issue, like a fallen tree on electrical equipment, it will isolate the outage to that area and limit the total number of affected customers. The device's smart technology will quickly pinpoint the location of the fault and help utility personnel better understand the cause of the outage to help speed restoration.

Automated voltage regulators are also being installed to help ensure safe, constant voltage levels along power lines on extremely cold or hot days that create high demand for electricity. In addition to preventing voltage issues for customers, the devices could potentially reduce energy usage for some customers served near the beginning of a power line because they will benefit from lower power voltages being fed into their homes or businesses.

Additional power lines are being strung to provide more flexibility in restoring outages due to events such as storms and vehicle accidents. The new power lines - designed to better withstand tree debris and severe weather - will help reduce the length and overall number of customers impacted during an outage by switching them to a backup line for faster service restoration, according to FirstEnergy.

The work, started in January and expected to be completed by August, is part of Penn Power's second phase Long Term Infrastructure Improvement Plan to help enhance electric service.

Penn Powe says the investments to upgrade the local energy grid have reduced the number and length of outages customers experience by 20% in areas where work has been completed.