Is Your Utility Prepared for Storm Season?

on May 08, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Clean Up Begins From Friday Storms That Knocked Power And Downed Trees Throughout Region

As Americans brace for warmer weather – and the tornadoes, droughts and hurricanes that come with it – the question remains: are utilities prepared to handle the stress of ever increasing inclement weather?

Like weather patterns, every utility requires unique ingredients to successfully navigate storm-related outage prevention and restoration strategy. However, at the foundation of every strategy are the following strategic tools to get right information, the right skillset, and the right action to the right place:

  1. Anticipate & Communicate: Using predictive models and historical performance, utilities should develop outage risk profiles given the predicted weather conditions.  With the anticipated risk, utilities should notify customers of the steps they can take to prepare and what they should do if an outage occurs to create a two-way dialogue with their customers. This can be done through traditional channels such as phone calls, or digital channels such as e-mail, text messaging and social media.  Enhancing the flow of communication across the electrical network is also key to improving restoration time if an outage does occur.
  2. Sense:  Utilities should integrate the five core components of the modern grid – an Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI), Geographic Information System (GIS), Outage Management System (OMS), Distributed Management System (DMS), and Distribution Automation (DA) capabilities. This ensures a diverse network of sensors and real-time data from the substation to the meter to “triangulate” the cause of the outage and the magnitude of the effect to quickly restore power.
  3. Invest: Of the 48,000 distribution substations in the U.S., less than half have automation installed, making it difficult to monitor for and detect outages in the distribution system. Without increases in investment, utility customers’ expected power recovery will be significantly more difficult.
  4. Integrate to the Edge: Every second counts during restoration. That’s why it’s important that every “last gasp” smart meter communication is leveraged. When power is lost, these meters have stored enough energy to send a final communication to the utility alerting them of the outage and its location. By pinpointing the exact location of an outage, crews avoid patrolling the unaffected lines sections searching for the cause and are able to restore power quickly and reduce downtime by going directly to the section of the outage cause.
  5. Prepare: Repair and reconfiguration scenarios should be anticipated as the storms approach.  Provisions for supporting and communicating with crews familiar with the system and foreign crews from other utilities will expedite the restoration and increase the safety.  During and after the storm, damage assessment and restoration teams should work closely to document major damage and prioritize the deployment of work crews.
  6. Monitor: In our current society of real-time news and data, utilities need to closely monitor and report on the restoration process. Investing in software capabilities that receive and analyze data minute-by-minute during the restoration process will give utilities important reports that they can communicate to stakeholders both during and after a storm.

Christopher Prince is the marketing application engineer and manager of the Grid IQ™ Experience Center for GE Digital Energy.  Digital Energy, a division of GE, is a major solutions provider and thought leader in the effort to modernize and optimize how we generate, move and consume energy.