PECO Gets On Top of Power Outages

PECO relies on its advanced smart metering technology and neighboring utilities to restore power efficiently.
Published: Fri 01 Aug 2014

Philadelphia-based PECO, an electric and natural gas utility subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, has been forced to deal with a number of outages as a result of severe storms which hit the service area over the last few weeks. But, their response times and power recovery has been nothing less than impressive.

The most recent outage saw a restoration under 12 hours for 75% of their customers.

Engerati spoke to Greg Smore, PECO Spokesperson, about their fast response and restoration times. He said that a safe and reliable service is PECO’s top priority and added that the company works hard to keep the lights on for their customers.

PECO’s electric service territory encompasses Philadelphia and the surrounding counties including a portion of York County. The company provides electric service to 1.6 million electric customers.

Facing the storm and restoring power

PECO’s service area experienced strong thunderstorms early July which impacted service to approximately 155,000 customers. PECO restored service to 95% of its affected customers in just over 24 hours and restored service to more than 150,000 customers in 36 hours.

Less than a week later on July 8, another band of severe storms impacted service to more than 260,000 customers. Around 75% of affected customers were restored in less than 12 hours. Crews had service restored to 98% of impacted customers within 36 hours following this storm.

In addition to these recent weather challenges, PECO faced one of its largest storms in the company’s history earlier this year. The February ice storm was the second worst storm in PECO’s history, interrupting service to more than 715,000 customers. Restoration work began on February 5 and 44% of its customers were restored the following day. Around 62% were restored over the next two days. By the fifth day, all customers’ power had been restored.

PECO’s energy restoration strategy

“Securing additional field resources from neighboring utility companies as part of our mutual assistance programs, is an essential component of our restoration strategy,” explains Smore.

PECO’s investment in advanced metering technology has also helped to improve its storm restoration efforts.

In 2012, the company began replacing its old meters with newer technology. As of July 16 this year, PECO has installed approximately 1.4 million AMI electric meters out of a population of 1.8 million meters.

The new meters provide essential information which is helpful during storm restoration.

Meters provide last gasp (the time power was last on) and will also provide a restoration message once power has been restored. This information helps PECO understand the size and scope of the outage.

Before AMI, PECO received information from 10 - 30% of the meters. Now, the company receives information from over 90% of the meters. The read percentage is expected to increase further as the remaining installations are carried out.

The information also creates efficiencies and saves truck rolls by allowing PECO to:

  • Reroute crews that may be heading to a job that has recently been restored
  • Direct the right crew with the proper skill set or equipment to a job site

  • Better identify nested outages and additional damage that remains somewhere else along an electric circuit or line after a larger issue has been resolved. This helps to pinpoint where additional damage may be on the system.

PECO have been installing automatic reclosers for the last 15 years. These control the flow of electricity on an aerial power line. When a problem occurs, like a fallen tree limb, lightning strike or vehicle accident, the recloser stops the flow of electricity on the line, and automatically restores electricity if possible.

Smore says, “We believe that these new meters helped us restore service approximately 2-3 days faster during the ice storm. In addition, the information provided by these new meters during Hurricane Sandy helped PECO avoid unnecessary truck rolls and reduced the length of outages for about 50,000 customers.”

Improving the service for customers

Smore points out that PECO continues to install additional pieces of advanced equipment which helps reduce power outages and improve electric service to customers.

“The new meters will help us provide more information to customers to help them understand how they use energy and how to save it, thereby reducing their energy bills.”

Other benefits include:

  • Efficient connect or disconnect service which provides a faster, more convenient service for customers who are moving house or commercial building in the service area

  • Support given to local fire departments and other officials during an emergency

  • Identify potentially dangerous situations like tampered meters and electricity theft

  • Detect problems faster and have access to more information. Field forces are deployed more effectively as a result

  • Provide the platform for new products and services to customers.

“We understand that our customers rely on us to deliver safe and reliable electric and natural gas service at a reasonable rate, which is why we actively work to promote our reliability initiatives and energy efficiency programs through an integrated public awareness campaign,” says Smore.

In conclusion, we asked Smore how PECO is planning for the energy transition and avoiding the so-called “death spiral” that utility executives speak of. He says, “We believe that utilities will continue to leverage new technologies to improve the customer experience with an emphasis on continued energy-efficiency programs.”