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June 4, 2015 Kemell Kassim

Extreme Weather is Inevitable: Is the Success of Your Outage Management Process?

Upon reflecting on America’s history, it would be difficult to overlook the devastation and continuing challenges brought on by extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Photo courtesy Freeimages.com

Photo courtesy Freeimages.com

It was one of the costliest natural disasters in history- racking in $80 billion in total losses and damages.

A Category 3 hurricane, perhaps even lesser known, reached the Long Island and New England region more than 70 years ago and caused more than $306 million worth of damage, a large sum of money now, but was considered even more exorbitant in 1938.

That’s the thing about extreme weather- one of the few constants in life, it doesn’t discriminate between continents or decades.

You can’t stop the rain, wind, or snow. But you can improve processes for outage management and damage assessment before weather strikes.

Outage management for utilities were a largely manual process in the past, and still are for some today, with little to no standards for collecting data. This leads to quite the inefficient restoration process for utility executives who strive for reliability and minimal outage duration for their customers.

The core of the utility business model is to provide reliable, resilient services within an expected range of time and power quality, after all.

By combining the traditional steps of outage management and restoration processes with recent technology such as smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), outage management can be improved even further.

From the utility perspective, benefits include monetary improvements from cutting costs in operation- fewer truck rolls, less wear and tear on vehicles and even less overtime for the crew.

But customers benefit, too. Due to the increasing reliance on digital technologies and electricity for productivity from residential, commercial, and industrial customers, a faster restoration time could mean economic benefits for them as well.

In order to improve the outage management life-cycle, it’s helpful to realize that an integrated approach is most efficient- one that incorporates sources of information like smart meters, social media/switch status with a standardized, digital platform that collects information and sends that data back into the right hands.

Here’s how outage management can be taken to the next level with technology and innovation:

Outage Identification

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) devices are currently being used at the most basic level combined with customer call-ins as the first step of the lifecycle, outage identification.

But what if utilities adopted AMIs and smart meters as a means to gain valuable insight, throughout the entire distribution grid? Smart meters allow “last-gasp” messages to be sent to the outage management system and therefore can identify both long-term and momentary service disruptions.

And don’t forget about the power of going mobile. Smartphones and other mobile devices that access the Internet can also provide valuable information right on hand.

Damage Assessment & Work Orders

Many utilities are using time- and resource- intensive processes for the damage assessment piece of the process, with no standard for reporting or cataloging changes for restoration.

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

This dated practice can be updated with prioritized work orders—field crews and damage assessors are most successful when they are ready for deployment as soon as the extreme weather event passes.

While the outage management system is a sufficient predictor of damage, it’s also critical that crew members relay any updated information on asset status that they observed in the field. This practice can also help develop localized ETRs for customers.

With the use of mobile computing, field crews can now gain even more access to data such as mobile mapping, network models, and visualization with a simple, graphical interface.

Work Order Execution

In order to execute an accurate ETR, utilities need to efficiently track and deploy work orders from the field. But, as mentioned before, it’s equally important to reflect any changes made in the field.

Automating work order execution to mobile devices has proved successful for numerous utilities– even offering safety benefits.

At Western Power Corporation, the implementation of GE’s mobile platform led to a 50% reduction in switching incidents.

“Mobile switching has automated the communications between field crews and the control center [and has] reduced errors and bottlenecks caused by high call volumes, as communications now occur electronically. This results in more coordinated communication between field and control, reduced delays from the control center, faster restoration times, real-time data being received from the field, more accurate restoration times and improved reliability [and] data accuracy,” said Western Power Corporation, in the “Best Practices in Outage Management” white paper by GE and GTM Research.

The mobile platform also allows for automatic network status updates as switching occurs.

Planning and Post-Event Reporting

Planning, whether in a financial or operational sense, is crucial for effective resource utilization.

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

Current outage management systems can model what-if scenarios that aid utilities in mapping out what resources are needed and where they can be obtained.

Standardizing data collection processes not only creates efficiency in the damage assessment step of the outage management life-cycle, it also allows for an easier post-event reporting.

Of course, while the evolving, modern outage management systems have begun to shape process for the better, the systems are only as strong as the data is accurate. This means information must be a bi-directional, constant flow between the field and operators– regardless of whether it’s real-time or post-event.

Want to read more about improving the outage management process? Download the white paper by GE and GTM Research.

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