Photo by DEMCO.
Outage management is about trust. Operators must trust data coming in from the field is accurate and up to date.

DEMCO's Digital Transformation for Outage Management

Jan. 12, 2023
DEMCO shares the three capabilities it prioritized when seeking an advanced outage management solution.
Following record drought, heat, wildfires and other extreme weather in 2022, climate change will continue to put communities at risk of widespread power outages. Yet, regardless of the weather, customer expectations are rising. Like other utilities, Dixie Electric Membership Corp. (DEMCO) is under increasing pressure to identify and resolve outages as quickly as possible.

Utility personnel may remember or have heard stories about the days of operations team hunched over a bunch of maps laid out across a big table in the control center, furiously radioing in assignments to personnel in the field. Then geographic information system (GIS) technology digitized the maps, making repairs a little more interactive. However, a lack of real-time information continued to make it difficult to identify faults, assign a technician and get power restored and running safely.

Fast forward to 2023 and new digital transformation initiatives at utilities around the world are providing an opportunity to take outage management one step further. Here is how DEMCO approached outage management.

Digital Transformation

DEMCO worked with Siena Tech Inc. to implement an outage management solution from Hitachi Energy Ltd. Now, when a call comes in about an outage, the utility can pinpoint its location instantly on an interactive map, prioritize the outage, diagnose the issue and create a plan for resolution — all from a single web-based management console. What makes it a game-changer? It is instantaneous and provides actionable recommendations based on real-time information.

The solution collects and analyzes real-time data from equipment in the field, incoming calls and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) meter information. Then it automatically recommends a plan of action to restore power based on priorities and other factors. This solution enables DEMCO to launch resources in the field and arm linemen with all the pertinent information they need to address the issue in the best, safest and fastest way possible.

These insights enable the cooperative to restore service to anyone who reports an outage and everyone else impacted — all in one fell swoop. It also can identify outages that have not been reported, keeping it one step ahead of customers. Most importantly, the outage management solution integrates with other critical business systems, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and dispatch and notification systems.

Outage Management In Action

Two storms that hit its service area in 2021 showed DEMCO how real-time, artificial intelligence-powered outage management capabilities could massively improve its response times. The first weather event was Uri, a winter storm that caused widespread power outages across five of the utility’s parishes because of ice accumulating on T&D lines. More than 42,000 members were impacted by 499 separate outages and needed power restored as quickly as possible. Difficult travel conditions due to snow and ice made it critical for crews to be routed as efficiently and safely as possible to the correct locations.

That summer, Hurricane Ida induced even more damage, toppling more than 4000 T&D poles across the area. Nearly 90% of members lost power at some point during the storm or in its aftermath — the most extensive damage DEMCO’s grid had ever experienced. The cooperative brought in more than 1000 crew members, many from out of state, to help restore power, requiring cross-organization coordination to clear rights-of-way from downed trees and debris and optimally direct crews to where needed.

Despite more severe conditions on the ground, the twin outages in 2021 were restored much more quickly than storms in 2012 and 2016, thanks to improvements in the outage management solution and DEMCO’s processes.

Three Considerations

Ultimately, outage management is about trust. Operators must trust data coming in from the field is accurate and up-to-date. Line workers need to trust operators are sending them to the right location and providing the right information at the right time, without sending them into unsafe conditions or on a wild goose chase. At the same time, the coop’s members need to trust DEMCO is doing everything in its power to restore service as quickly as possible.

Utilities need to trust their outage management solution, but not all systems are created equal. Here are three capabilities DEMCO prioritized when looking for a solution:

1. Real-time visibility — Operators need to inform field personnel with pertinent information. They need to be able to tell them exactly what they are walking into. There cannot be a situation where line workers are told one thing and then pull up to a location with a completely different situation on the ground. Surprises can can be life altering and even result in death in this line of work. Real-time visibility into grid conditions keeps everyone on task as safely as possible.

2. Powerful performance — Operators cannot provide real-time information to line workers if they are dealing with any lag time in a system. It is inefficient and, frankly, dangerous, to be dealing with old information — even if it is just minutes old. When things go down in the field, utilities need the latest information to feed into the recommendation engine. Time is critical to keeping everyone safe.

3. Reporting — Utilities are required to inform customers, public safety officials and the media about conditions on the ground, where outages are occurring and when service is expected to be restored. The outage management solution must be able to take technical data about the grid collected from the field and translate it in a way that people understand. Distracting the operations team by asking for constant updates takes their focus away from the mission at hand. DEMCO takes communications very seriously. In fact, the Public Utility Commission of Louisiana publicly recognizes the cooperative as being the most informative utility in the state to report information during storms.

Start Planning Today

It does not matter what gets thrown at utilities — hurricanes, snowstorms or afternoon thunderstorms — the outage management system needs to provide real-time visibility into the power grid, so immediate decisions can be made based on service and safety. Utilities must ensure their solution provides the visibility, insights and communications aspects needed to restore power quickly and safely.

Mark Phillips joined the DEMCO team in 2001 as a line worker and worked his way up to District Line Supervisor, then Manager of Operations, Director of Operations, Vice President of Engineering & Operations and now serves as Chief Engineering & Operations Officer. Mark has a passion for innovation, optimized operations, and efficient processes. His team works tirelessly around the clock to monitor and maintain DEMCO’s electric power grid. Mark currently resides in Central LA with his wife and two children. 

For More Information

HItachi Energy |

Siena Tech |

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!