In this article on smart grid intelligence, the authors explore the unique challenges and resource limitations that utilities experience in responding to emergency power outages and the role that mobile technology can play in restoring power faster, more safely and effectively.
NOTE: Deepak Swamy will be one of the featured panelists at the upcoming Leaders in Energy professional networking event on “Building a Responsive Energy Infrastructure for the Future” which will examine extreme weather and measures to improve the resiliency of the electric power grid at the American Public Power Association (APPA) headquarters in Arlington, VA on August 20, 2015.
By DEEPAK SWAMY and JONATHAN ROGERS
50 million smart meters and counting, according to the Edison Foundation. As of July 2014, over 43% of U.S. homes were covered by smart meters. These devices play a critical role in shaping the electric grid of tomorrow and enable the integration of a new generation of energy services and technologies. Smart meters have been shown to benefit both the utilities and utility customers by improving distribution system monitoring and providing unprecedented insight into energy consumption behavior. However, just as this new insight doesn’t necessarily lead consumers to change their behavior, smart meters alone may be inadequate to guarantee rapid restoration during a major emergency outage.
From 2003-2012, weather-related outages are estimated to have cost the U.S.economy an inflation-adjusted annual average of $18 billion to $33 billion, according a report by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, U.S. Department of Energy, and The White House Office of Science and Technology. Despite the increased frequency of severe weather events, utilities are more accountable than ever for providing reliable service and are taking strides to invest in new technologies. A 2013 survey from consulting services company, Accenture, found that asset management analytics provides the greatest value to the utility, followed by grid operations analytics. Considering that there is no shortage of smart grid technologies seeking to automate these analytics, the key questions are:
Which asset management/ grid operations analytics solutions offer the most bang for the utility buck?
How should utilities prioritize system management investments once smart grid infrastructure is in place?
Some utilities have deployed smart monitoring combined with redundancy of grid elements to improve service continuity and outage response, however, such approaches have proved to be costly. As part of PSE&G’s $1 billion post-Sandy hardening plan, the utility plans to spend $100 million on fault location, isolation, and service restoration, and another $100 million on remote controls for substations and a distribution management system. Additionally, smart grids rely on portions of the distribution system remaining intact to relay information and in cases where communications are lost as a result of significant damage the traditional “smart” devices are rendered ineffective.
While these investments provide insights into who is out of service, the extent of the damage and repair requirements are not fully understood until a utility crew is sent into the field to assess the damage first-hand. Our conversations with utility executives have indicated that during a widespread outage, experienced technicians and damage assessors are required virtually everywhere at once. Faster restoration requires that a utility be able to quickly determine the nature of damage, pinpoint it to passive grid elements such as poles and distribution wires, and dispatch the appropriate restoration crews and equipment.
A low-cost collaborative approach to enhance early outage intelligence
One new approach to outage response is for a utility to partner with municipal first responders—fire and police—who are typically the first to arrive at the scene of downed wires and poles. Currently these first responders rely on two-way radio based verbal communication with utility dispatchers to report outages and have been underutilized for early outage intelligence. However a new generation of software turns these personnel into a resource and is emerging as a practical alternative to cost prohibitive redundant distribution networks. Software has been developed, which empowers first responders to use mobile technology to quickly report damage, send messages in real-time, and take GPS-encoded pictures to pinpoint damage location and provide “eyes on” the scene of an outage. The improved visibility and situational awareness enhance the utility’s existing outage response practices and enable utility workers to:
- Send the appropriate repair crews the first time, reducing wasted truck rolls/ crew deployments
- Prioritize outages during an emergency situation on the basis of risk and impact
- Rapidly restore service, reducing utility and customer costs
The iRestore team has been working with a large New England based utility and a number of municipalities to pilot this mobile software system. The utilities found that not only were they able to more effectively assess and respond to outages, but that by working closely with the municipality workers they were able to improve utility community relations. More information on this pilot may be found here.
We look forward to discussing the lessons learned from the pilot and the potential for mobile software to enable greater resiliency through low-cost early outage intelligence at the Leaders in Energy’s professional networking event at the American Public Power Association (APPA) headquarters in Arlington, VA on August 20, 2015.
About the Authors:
Deepak Swamy is the President & CEO of Business Radar—developers of the award-winning iRestoreTM mobile platform and intelligent assistant for utility workers. Deepak is a product leader, former strategy consultant and an entrepreneur who has led product teams at three startups and someone who loves travel and new experiences — he has lived and worked on three continents.
Follow Deepak: @DeepakIsHereNow.
Connect with Deepak on LinkedIn here.
Jonathan Rogers is an Energy Engineer with Energetics Incorporated, where he also leads technology commercialization initiatives as Chief of Staff of the Energetics Innovation Practice. Jonathan works with entrepreneurs, investors, and public sector agencies in new technology and early-stage ventures. He has experience evaluating the business preparedness and commercial potential of technology developers and their projects.
Connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn here
About Business Radar and Energetics:
The Business Radar-Energetics (BRE) team leverages the complementary strengths of two organizations to help utilities more efficiently respond to outages, improve stakeholder relations, and reduce customer outage costs.
Business Radar is a provider of outage intelligence and restoration technologies for electric and gas utilities. Located in McLean, VA and San Jose, CA, Business Radar’s award-winning iRestore mobile platform provides utilities with “eyes-on visibility” that greatly speeds and increases accuracy of the utility damage assessment process. Successfully piloted by National Grid in Massachusetts, iRestore uniquely enables the utility to connect with first responders throughout their service area.
Energetics is an energy and environmental consulting firm that has worked for 35+ years with the United States Department of Energy and has experience working with regional transmission organizations and utilities. Energetics brings significant project management experience and is responsible for implementing best practices in software integration, engaging users of the system, and collecting and analyzing key performance metrics.