T&D World Magazine

Austin Energy Selects Utility Design Software as Next Step in Smart Grid Plan

Austin Energy has chosen a utility design software program in its latest move to achieve a fully integrated and self-healing utility. The program will interface with the utility’s Geographic Information System software, enabling Austin to optimize its CAD-based facility and network design using more accurate data and smoother processes.

One of the challenges Austin Energy faced in choosing a design solution arose from being a department of the City of Austin. Austin Energy had been using GE Smallworld GIS software, while the City of Austin was using ESRI GIS software. The new program, Autodesk Utility Design, can integrate data from both of those systems.

The new program replaces a system that was disconnected from GIS and other key systems within Austin Energy. With AUD, Austin Energy will be able to bridge its multiple GIS platforms while leveraging its existing AutoCAD footprint and talent.

Austin Energy, the nation’s ninth-largest community-owned electric utility, serves approximately 400,000 customers in the Texas capital and surrounding county. Austin Energy is noted for its renewable-energy, smart grid, and green building programs, and generates up to 2600 MW of electricity through a diverse mix of energy sources. As a publicly owned power company and a city department, Austin Energy returns profits to the community annually, funding city services and amenities.

The utility started integrating systems for smart grid step by step in 2004 when it started building enterprise architecture. It followed with an AMI program to reach every meter and key assets while deploying a service-area network. Its next step was to deploy a new meter data management system (started in 2008) and distribution management system (started in January 2009). Other newer steps include feeding an outage management system, GIS, and asset management system, followed with SCADA/EMS and planning tools as needed. The last part of the plan is to feed CIS to enable new DSM/DR programs and billing rates (TOU, Net, Prepay, etc).

“These technologies hold great potential for improving system performance, controlling costs and delivering enhanced customer experiences,” wrote John Baker Jr., chief strategy officer for Austin Energy, in the May issue of T&D World. “All these aspects will be essential in a rapidly changing and increasingly uncertain energy future.”

Among its public announcements for smart grid decisions, Austin Energy said in July that it had purchased outage management software but did not name the program. The utility reported that the software would enable it to “get signals from the meters indicating when a customer has lost power, when the power has come back on, and to verify that the customer in fact has electricity.” The Austin City Council approved the purchase of the software up to $330,369.

The software will enable the utility to receive a "last gasp" signal from meters indicating the customer has lost power, a "power up" signal when the power is restored, and also allow Austin Energy to "ping" the meters to double-check that electricity is on.

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