Utilities are currently investing heavily in resiliency measures and modifying their emergency response plans. This is in response to the increase in extreme weather conditions and super storms that the world has been experiencing recently.
Public expectations for reliability and restoration have increased considerably and utilities are expected to do more to prepare for and recover faster after extreme weather conditions which are having devastating effects on electric infrastructure.
According to Jeff Lewis of PA Consulting Group, utilities should be working to enhance prevention, response and perception solutions:
Utilities continue to make significant investments in preventative or hardening measures to generation and transmission facilities. Utilities have been focusing their attention on:
Data-driven asset management decision processes and use of structured methodologies such as PAS 551. These are becoming more commonplace as they assist utilities to better understand pressure points and improve maintenance/replacement focus.
Installation of flood barriers around generation and substation facilities that are prone to flooding.
Cost-effective undergrounding of vulnerable overhead feeders.
Integration of more advanced automatic reclosing technologies and Distribution Management System software applications are helping to avoid or minimize the impact of outages.
PSE&G plans to spend US$2.7 billion over the next ten years on these technological improvements for its electric network, and Con Edison is aiming to spend over US$1 billion on their system over the next three years, as well as network system hardening.
However, hardening of generation and transmission assets can take time and immediate benefits are not likely.
Situational awareness is greatly enhanced by mobile technologies and utilities are improving their field work allocations as a result. Utilities can ensure that restoration teams are allocated effectively and that field efforts are prioritized according to needs. We discuss this in our article, Utilities: Future-Proofing Your Mobile Networks.
The testing and implementation of enhanced weather modeling systems, OMS, DMS and AMI applications are providing the necessary tools to forecast and respond to extreme events more effectively. These technologies allow utilities to model in advance service territory impacts and predict the number of damage/outage locations and customers affected.
By working with regional mutual aid organizations, allocation of adequate foreign resources to utilities with the most urgent need can be improved.
Utilities should focus more on centralized control models based on the Incident Command System structure and smarter field crew allocation. This should lead to enhanced coordination and effectiveness of limited resources, as well as lower overall recovery costs.
To improve the reaction strategy, utilities can also implement more robust training and storm drills simulated to cover events affecting up to 90% of customer base.
Perception (communicating with the customer)
No matter how quickly a utility restores power, there may be a big difference between actual restoration performance and perceived performance in the eyes of the customer, regulator, politicians and media during an event. To address this gap, utilities should:
Work with regulators to define and understand new scorecards and metrics that better align to the public’s expectations around storm response
Work to ensure that the “estimated time to restoration” is generated efficiently and accurately
In addition to this, fast and effective customer communication is critical regardless of how quickly a utility restores power. While utilities work to improve restoration time, they will need to use a faster communications channel such as email, texting and social media like Facebook and twitter. In our recent article, Utilities Are Still Failing to Engage Effectively with the Consumer, we discuss the importance of effective customer engagement. This is especially important during a power crisis.
The integration of data from AMI, SCADA, DMS, OMS and weather modeling gives utilities the ability to (more accurately) forecast extreme weather events. The data can be used to predict the exact location of the damage, the number of customers affected, as well as the number of field crews that will be required to restore power. Utilities can even predict whether they will need assistance from neighboring utilities before the event even occurs. This can all be done with greater precision, thanks to the technology that utilities have access to nowadays.
Extreme weather conditions are becoming part of today’s reality and it is essential for utilities to continue enhancing its systems and infrastructure so that impacts are minimized. This will see a major overhaul of an aging generation and transmission system in order to make way for a digital utility that supports automated troubleshooting via real-time, two-way communications and perhaps greater local customer generation / storage to reduce dependency on the centralized grid.
A continued focus on prevention, reaction, perception and prediction measures will no doubt help utilities in their goal to deliver safe and reliable electricity.