When people hear “data analytics,” they know it involves getting into the weeds: swimming in spreadsheets, glaring at graphs and deciphering infinite decimal places. A team of engineers and business experts at Alabama Power Co. (APC), however, uses data analytics as a discovery tool. When the team looked beyond the weeds, they found ways to save money and improve the grid. It started underground.
Four years ago, APC overhauled how it identified and prioritized undergrounding projects.
The team began using data to inform capital decisions through a new approach to economic efficiency: life cycle cost analysis. The utility analyzed its costs of drop-out reclosers, automated devices, fiber and other investment projects across the system. The new data supported decisions. What changed, however, was that the new data began influencing decisions. That realization led to APC’s creation of a data analytics organization that explores net-new data initiatives — from supporting storm restoration planning to geographic workforce placement.
"For many years, our industry hasn’t had the information readily available for evaluation of all future cost implications.,” said Jesse Woods, manager of power delivery data analytics for APC. “The benefits of being able to analyze large data sets of reliability and cost allow us to make more informed decisions.”
Woods, a chemical engineer with an MBA, said decision-makers at utilities can use data analytics to consider their investments’ total lifetime costs in addition to upfront costs.
“Working with a number of utilities previously as a consultant and now inside a single utility has given me a unique perspective on what I have seen as innovative ideas to help move our industry forward,” Woods said.
He and his APC colleague, Shane Powell, will discuss whether utilities can save money while making reliability investments during a Sept. 13 panel, “Data Informed Grid Modernization — Leveraging Analytics for Investment Decisions?” The session is part of the T&D World Live Conference in Sacramento, California.
Powell, an electrical engineer who has been with APC for 24 years, works as a power delivery data analytics and innovation manager. He started as a student engineer in transmission, then moved into distribution. He spent 18 years in the field across distribution, network and reliability. Now he works at corporate headquarters, where he has managed engineering services, joint use, budget support and finally data analytics.
“Our session will focus on how to expand the view of capital deployed beyond classic examination of reliability improvements and instead consider the potential O&M cost savings associated with certain investment types,” Powell said. “The monetization of future O&M savings can make a compelling case for certain types of investments like undergrounding or smart devices to save call-outs and improve reliability for customers.”
- APC’s data analytics focus areas and mission to support new grid investment strategies.
- APC’s challenges in adopting new data analytics strategies.
- Partnership opportunities with internal IT organizations to leverage modern cloud technology.
- Vendor partnership best practices.
Woods and Powell said they’re up for conversations not so in the weeds, too. Woods enjoys watching college football, cooking and grilling. Powell said he looks forward to spending time with his wife and twin daughters, playing golf and running.
The T&D World Live Conference will be Sept. 12-14 in Sacramento. Registration, conference and event details are available on the conference website.
Kristen Wright is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience covering global utilities, petroleum and policy. She is chief strategist at Kristen Wright Strategic Communications. Reach her at [email protected] and wrightkristenm on LinkedIn.