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Tech and gadgets: a holiday wish list for utilities

Energy Biz

8 December 2013

If progress is viewed as the highway we travel, the U.S. has just put the ten-year anniversary of the historic 2003 northeastern blackout that affected almost 45 million customers squarely in the rearview mirror. Our grid today is stronger under blue-sky conditions, more resilient and more reliable. However, the urge to use cruise control must be resisted as we look at the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy that put 8 million people out of power, many of whom were out for two weeks. With wounds still healing, it can hardly be comforting to learn that the number of weather-related outage events in North America has skyrocketed by over 500% in the past three decades—rising more rapidly than anywhere else in the world (according to MunichRe).

In an effort to increase overall reliability and particularly improve response to major storm events, utilities must transform their business and enterprise IT architecture in order to become the digital utility of tomorrow. To benefit from a highly connected, data-driven and service-centric new era, simply adapting the legacy IT portfolio in an ad-hoc manner does not represent a sufficient response to such complex and unpredictable events as a Superstorm.

We have first-hand observed positive signs towards this transformation over the last few years, both through an awards program (ReliabilityOne) that recognizes the nation’s most reliable utilities, and by working with utilities to invest in the solutions aligned with the optimal operations strategy. We’ve found success begins with several factors, and the wish list should include:

  1. Customer choice in communications. Construct and operate new digital channels that are user-friendly, accurate and available on any device, such as social media and advanced IVR systems.

  2. Data analytics and management. Create capable integrated systems and data such as weather prediction and trouble location modeling that can cost-effectively satisfy customer and regulator expectations around ETRs (estimated times for restoration) and public safety.

  3. Mobile technology. Enable the workforce to embrace new mobile technologies such as tablets, smart phones, and mobile data terminals and understand how it benefits customers and employees. This can be done by using simulators, field storm drills, and e-learning.

  4. Smarter grid. Use advanced automation within the distribution network - such as automatic circuit reclosers to improve operational efficiencies, increase reliability, and most importantly, improve customer experience.

  5. Embrace the change. To optimize new technology offerings, ensure business processes are well defined and streamlined, and that staff are involved through effective change management.

Utilities that have not yet fully leveraged these technologies would benefit greatly by deploying solutions that offer faster detection and restoration of outages and improve customer service by being able to report more timely and accurate restoration data. For example, National Grid is arming its storm damage assessment crews with iPads to generate instantaneous updates around the type and location of asset damage. Adopting time-saving measures such as this and others could improve crew productivity and curtail total restoration duration for even the more responsive utilities by over 10% (increase also includes improving crew productivity during certain shifts). For utilities, this is the time to make sure there is a comprehensive strategy in place to adopt the various technologies that are readily available. The benefits would be welcomed during both blue skies and major events by all the utilities’ stakeholders—customers, employees and regulators alike.


To find out more about PA’s ReliabilityOneTM  and how your utility could benefit from transmission and distribution and customer serbice benchmarking, contact us now.

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