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Utilities Need to Keep Communicating

Jan. 18, 2024
Power quality isn’t a buzz word for the men and woman challenged with keeping the system working, but we need to keep the communications flowing.

I usually don’t pay much attention to the technologies being offered to improve the consumer’s infrastructure other than watching what is going on with rooftop solar and storage. Those two residential technologies, however, are having an immense impact on the power grid. A few days ago, however, I saw several advertisements pop up on my smartphone that I could not ignore. They started off saying utilities are selling dirty electricity, which was costing the consumer, and they had the device to stop it.

I know, it was click-bait, but I had to see where this was going. They said that utilities have known about the problem and have been suppressing this technology for years to rake in huge profits. The way it was written did not give any information about the technology or how it operated. What was clearly defined, however, was that these phenomenal gizmos would save the buyer from 40% to 90% on their electric bills.

Buyer Beware

It was a scam plain and simple. They threw just enough technical jargon into their hard sell that the average consumer would be hooked and buy the gadgets. So why would consumers waste money on this scam? Utilities are investing heavily on advanced technologies to improve power quality and increase their efficiency. They’re redefining the power grid, but do consumers know that?

A few months ago I read a study from J.D. Power that throws some light on that. The study reported that the commercial and industrial customer (C&I) approval ratings of their electric utility service were at an all-time low. Rising electricity prices and a perceived lack of concern on the part of the utilities were listed as the key factors for this dissatisfaction.

Utilities aren’t communicating effectively. Their message is not getting to the C&I companies or their employees. J.D. Power pointed out that some utilities are doing a really good job of connecting with their C&I customers, but most, however, are not. Better communications has to be accomplished for all levels of the utility’s customers to be effective, so let’s look at some of the positive examples.

Technology Says It All 

I did a quick search of upbeat news stories from electric utilities, and there  were many, but for the most part they’re not covered by the news media. In today’s fast paced world, slow moving improvements take a back seat to fast changing events. With that in mind perhaps a little more hype on the utility’s part is needed to catch the consumer’s attention.

Con Edison recently reported that its customers have installed more than 554 megawatts of solar power on their rooftops. It went on to say that if these customers were linked into a utility-scale solar generator, they would be the largest producer of solar energy in the state! That is a positive story that is enjoyable and informative. The story ended with Con Edison encouraging its customers to continue these installations.

In Colorado, wildfires are an intense topic on everyone’s mind since the wildfire season now covers the entire year. Xcel Energy got attention with its announcement that it was expanding its high-tech wildfire detection camera network across Colorado. The system integrates data sourced from state-of-the-art high-def cameras, geostationary satellites, and other data feeds, 5G connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud-based software that actively searches for smoke from new wildfire ignitions.

Several agencies were quoted as saying the system’s early detection ability has been credited with preventing small fires from becoming wildfires.

Portland General Electric (PGE) is also applying cutting-edge and some older technologies to its system for wildfire mitigation, and it is keeping its customer base apprised. One news release said it had started a program to replace wooden power line poles with ductile iron poles in fire prone areas. In addition, they installed about 1,000 fire-safe fuses to their power network. PGE is also expanding its wildfire detection high-def AI camera system. The report included several other mitigation efforts, which PGE pointed out would allow them to make the public-safety power shutoffs their last resort.

Everyday more grid-enhancing technologies become available and our electric utilities are busy installing them to make the power grid more stronger and more resilient. Power quality isn’t a buzz word for the men and woman challenged with keeping the system working, but we need to keep the communications flowing. If we don’t, someone will say we are selling dirty power and they have a con ready to sell them!

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