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Customers’ Expectations Are Evolving, But It Will Take More Than Complaints to Drive Change

April 30, 2021
With many working from home, regulators and utilities need to act to prevent the common problem of momentary outages in residential areas.

No matter where we turn, someone is talking about these unprecedented times. It’s a fact we have come to accept as many of us celebrate the one-year anniversary of our dining room tables becoming our home offices. All this time at home has changed the way we work, the way we live and the way we consume power.

It’s hard to believe that over the course of one year, millions of professionals have stopped commuting and thousands of businesses are operating virtually. This is the first time in the history of the power grid that the edge of the grid is consistently requiring so much power. Across the world, companies are relying on their employees’ local electric utilities to ensure their workday can progress without interruption, but that’s not always the case.

Countless power users are learning consistent, reliable power isn’t a guarantee and a power outage of any length can truly impact the ability to conduct business. In 2019, a momentary residential-area outage during the middle of the day was easy to ignore because no one was home. Today, a 30-second outage has a much greater impact at the edge of the grid — video calls are dropped, routers need time to reset and power users are getting frustrated.

Utilities may not be measuring these short periods of power loss, so calling into their customer service line to voice a concern may not lead to a long-term solution. The utility will catalog the complaint call, but unless it is tracking momentary outages and measuring customer experience, customers shouldn’t expect change to happen quickly.

Momentary outages aren’t a new problem

It may come as a surprise to power users, but momentary outages aren’t new. They have been a common occurrence on the grid for decades. With so few individuals using power at the edge of the grid during the business day, these outages have gone relatively unnoticed for years.

Addressing momentary outages has never been a critical focus for policymakers, so utilities have rarely prioritized them. With so many personal electronics at home, the drivers to measure, manage and fix these problems are becoming more apparent. In short, it’s time for the edge of the grid to receive the attention it deserves. 

In the early 2000s, customer-focused metrics, including the CEMI (customers experiencing multiple interruptions) and the CEMM (customers experiencing multiple momentaries), were developed to help measure individual user experience, including the number of momentary outages any one customer experiences, but very few utilities in the United States are using these metrics to make targeted improvements.

When these metrics were first developed, collecting the data to support them was difficult. As technology continues to advance and grid devices become smarter, collecting this data is becoming easier, which poses the question: Why aren’t more utilities measuring this pain?

Addressing momentary outages

Momentary outages are a global problem and most of the regions actively addressing these outages are being provided incentives by their regulatory bodies to do so. Ofgem, in Great Britain, has established a new grant to assist utilities in their distribution improvements, including a focus on limiting momentary outages. The change in customer power usage patterns is a primary driver to bring utility focus to the last mile of the grid and to invest in the distribution system. Regulatory bodies and utilities alike are realizing these investments will not only have a significant impact on overall reliability, but will also improve customer satisfaction. 

Many regulatory bodies in the United States measure utilities based on customer-satisfaction metrics, but ‘customer satisfaction’ covers everything that could possibly upset a customer and not just the quality of their power delivery. What power users need is for regulators to begin measuring utilities based on customer-centric reliability metrics.

While some utilities are tracking customer-centric metrics such as the CEMI and the CEMM on their own, widespread adoption will only be possible through revised regulatory requirements. The use of these metrics helps utilities identify key problem areas, guide future investments and support overall reliability improvements for a given system.

Meeting customer expectations of today

The world is changing and so is our power usage. We live in a world where the lights are expected to turn on at the flip of a switch, no matter what. Many professionals also likely will continue to work from home, putting continuous strain on the very edge of the grid. With this change on the horizon, utilities must decide whether they begin working to address the problem now or wait until they are required to do so.

Power and electricity are the backbone of our society and end-users have been very vocal this year about their experience. Consumers can say they are unhappy with their service, but it is up to the utility to identify where the problem truly lies. By seeking out these problem areas and investing in advanced lateral-protection solutions to help prevent these outages from occurring, utilities will be providing better power service to match their customers’ expectations. 

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