Situational Intelligence Helps Utilities Repair Outages from Severe Weather

Dec. 11, 2014
Space-Time Insight software provides utilities with the ability to visually assess on large screens the performance of their electric grid.

Severe weather – you can find it every day on the Weather channel, moving across America as large storms (often with tornadoes) pose a direct threat to the lives and power supply for thousands of utility customers.

A 10-day outage for 288,000 customers: The $138 million bottom line

A serious storm with major outages is expensive. Major events such as Hurricane Sandy can cost in the billions of dollars. By example, a utility with 1,200,000 customers with 288,000 affected customers is spending on average $48 per day per affected customer. A 10-day outage event can cost the utility as much as $138,240,000.

How does a utility prepare for impending severe weather?

Space-Time Insight software provides utilities with the ability to visually assess on large screens the performance of their electric grid, analyzing and correlating literally millions of data points from multiple sources – a critical requirement in the deployment of Wide Area Situational Awareness (WASA) systems. Designed to accommodate the microsecond measurements recorded by synchrophasors – devices used to measure the state and quality of the power system sixty times a second – the software arms control room operators with timely information needed to make instant decisions that impact grid stability and availability.

Obviously, there’s nothing a utility can do to stop a major storm. But, they can monitor the immediate impact of storms on their customers and precisely find where the outages are located. If a tree has fallen on power lines, if a transformer has blown, if a facility has flooded – they can find out instantly where the problem is located and send out a crew to fix it and get the grid back up.

What’s the problem? Where’s the problem?

That’s been one of the most significant problems when utilities have been faced with massive outages, similar to hurricane Sandy last year on the East Coast. Finding and fixing the problem as soon as possible. It’s a fact that many utilities are still reliant on “old school” databases, spreadsheets and operational charts to run their operations. We’ve all seen the TV footage of utility trucks negotiating and searching their way through streets blocked by downed trees or two feet of snow. Ask any frustrated utility customer whose power has been out for four days – while they wait and wait the utility’s repair crews are out there simply trying to FIND THE PROBLEM.

Knowing the status of their grid not only makes practical sense for the utility – they can provide updates to their customers sitting in the dark with flashlights about when, approximately, their service will be restored.

"This is especially true with the rollout of smart meter and wide area situational awareness systems that not only generate huge volumes of data, but the success of their operation depends on real-time or near real-time interpretation of that data," said Steve Ehrlich, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Space-Time Insight, "The situation is exacerbated by the need to correlate multiple internal and external sources of data, all arriving in different formats, at different speeds and at different times."

There’s a better way to see the current grid status

The storm is over, the grid data pours in. How do you make sense of it? The situational intelligence provided by Space-Time Insight helps utilities to manage the data onslaught and make more rapid, intelligent decisions as a result. Operators can visualize (“see”) operational problems or situations on large screens. Point to it with their finger and then electronically direct their crews to quickly fix the problem.

"Geospatial displays used in conjunction with more traditional analytics are at the center of this revolution since they provide the framework for the visualization as well as a jumping-off point for further analysis and action," said Steve Ehrlich.

Situational intelligence correlates data from synchrophasors with other data and events, such as weather, fires, smart meter data, outage data and customer service calls – so that utilities gain a complete understanding of a problem and can fix it more rapidly. That information is provided on large screens in their control centers, color coded for system status. Operators can identify the exact failure shown on the screen to determine the cause – and send out a crew with the appropriate skills and equipment for repairs.

"By understanding a situation in real-time and reacting to it even a few minutes faster utilities can save lives and property," Ehrlich said.

Situational intelligence helps preserve revenue. When outages occur, a map showing the areas with the most customers affected provides focus to service crews to prioritize their triage. Situational intelligence also reduces costs by visualizing the failure rate of assets over time, triggering guidance to replace them or modify their maintenance plan.

In short, Situational intelligence provides:

  • Improved ability to anticipate and prioritize service restoration
  • Faster assessment of situation
  • More collaborative response
  • Reduce risk, duration, and cost of outages
  • Leverage existing IT investment
  • Lower operating and planning costs
  • Develop a more resilient system.

"Consumers are demanding more customer-friendly service, regulators are pushing for higher standards such as use of renewable energy, their infrastructure is aging as is their workforce, and new developments like smart meters are stressing their operations," said Ehrlich.

Fixing an aging power grid

With situational intelligence, consumers get more timely information about how to make best use of their services using smart meters and demand response, threshold alarms and alerts help avoid costly fines. As more smart devices and property are added to the smart grid, the need for situational intelligence becomes even more critical.

"It is one thing to know that when you roll out two million smart meters, you will receive a certain amount of data per meter, and there is a defined set of value you can derive from that data," said Ehrlich. "But when electric vehicles, smart buildings, smart homes and smart cities come along, the issues are many times more complex."

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