Fire may be an exaggeration, but CenterPoint Energy in Houston, Texas, U.S., has seen its share of devastating hurricanes, wind storms, flooding and practically everything else nature can throw at a geographic area. CenterPoint is eager to share its experience with the extreme flooding in the Houston area in April of this past year, and how years of hard-earned experience and smart planning helped us accomplish system restoration in an amazingly short period. We also want to give a shout out of thanks to the Texas Regional Mutual Assistance Group, made up of our utility partners who helped in the restoration during this severe event.
Storm Prone and Storm Hardened
The Houston area sees 20 to 30 large storms every year. Weather experts called the storm that began April 17 the largest non-hurricane flood event the area has experienced in 15 years. However, service was restored to 90% of the 400,000 outage events in less than 12 hours, and the system was back to reasonably normal condition in 24 hours, except for a few inaccessible high-water areas. Our response to this major event demonstrates storm resiliency in action. The company is able to achieve such performance because it has developed a highly skilled workforce and an engaged and well-trained leadership team that is proactive in its preparation for and response to storms; furthermore, it has integrated advanced work processes and technologies into the workforce. All of these components/ attributes are combined into a comprehensive plan along with highly developed system solutions, including an advanced metering system, an advanced distribution management (ADMS) system, an intelligent grid, a mobile data platform, a power alert service system, an integrated voice response (IVR) system and a Customer Vision Platform.
The success of CenterPoint’s plans and systems is evidenced by both the April storm restoration time and the customer feedback. The news media following the storm focused on the magnitude of the damage and impacts to the public, but the outage-related feedback was minimal and positive. Customer satisfaction feedback regarding the utility’s response was equal to or better than a normal “blue-sky” day, indicating the technology and plans put in place to inform customers in real time about outages and restoration worked very well.
High Performance Takes Extensive Preparation
Last spring, Steve Greenley, vice president of electric operations, oversaw the deployment of our new mobile data system for the crews and trucks, which is tied to our new ADMS system.
As fate would have it, we experienced major storms later in the year. Ed Scott, director of electric operations, incorporated the lessons learned from those events into our storm response manual, which is our game plan and a tool for ensuring continuous improvement.
The eyes for our storm resiliency program are the smart meters we began installing on our system in 2009. We no longer rely on customer phone calls. Whether the customer is home or not, our meters reveal in real time when there is a problem. Outage and other information travels to our back office in a second and is fed into our outage management system, which is part of our ADMS software upgrades. This marriage of two new systems, each highly valuable on its own, has been a transformational change for us.
CenterPoint’s ADMS system recognizes faults on the system, sectionalizes feeder circuits through intelligent grid IT sensors and helps route crews efficiently when there is a disruption. This DSCADA system allows CenterPoint dispatchers to communicate with the approximately 2000 intelligent grid and other automated switching devices on the system.
The back-office system can communicate in real time to those devices and recover power more quickly by automatically restoring service under some conditions and minimizing the extent of any disruption requiring a truck roll. The same system interacts with the mobile data platform, providing real-time orders to work crews for the issues requiring a call-out.
CenterPoint has been working for several years to refine its Customer Vision Platform and its Power Alert Service (PAS). Customers can elect to receive outage information via email, text or phone call with PAS. The service notifies customers that the system has detected an outage and provides information about work crew response and expected restoration times. More than 580,000 customers are enrolled in this service, and we are seeing a 90% satisfaction rating from customers. This program is accompanied by a new natural language IVR system at CenterPoint’s call center that has a predictive analytics function that recognizes customers who call the center and responds to voice cues regarding outages and other information.
CenterPoint is proactively engaged in storm resiliency preparedness and customer satisfaction. The business model is to deliver safe, reliable and affordable energy every day.
Kenny Mercado is senior vice president of electric operations