Reducing Grid Outages With Asset Performance Management

Increasing pressures to optimize costs and reduce the risk of power grid outages, requires utilities to streamline inspection and maintenance efforts to achieve utmost efficiency.

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By Walter Walejeski

Increasing pressures to optimize costs and reduce the risk of power grid outages, requires utilities to streamline inspection and maintenance efforts to achieve utmost efficiency.

The number of reported U.S. power outages rose significantly between 2000 and 2014. Between 2013 and 2014 alone, the number of reported outages increased 12 percent from 3,236 to 3,634, according to the Blackout Tracker Annual Report. As a result, the number of people affected by outages increased from 14 million in 2013 to 14.2 million in 2014. Experts predict more outages will occur because of aging infrastructure, extreme weather conditions and increased demand from a growing population.

In the energy industry, forward‐thinking leaders are needed to define and develop new processes that are effective and drive improvement. Balancing inspection costs with safety and regulatory compliance can be achieved only by properly assessing and understanding the risk that a generation or distribution asset failure poses to the grid. That process is called asset performance management (APM).

The transition to proactive APM allows industry operators and leaders to more efficiently manage sustainability risk across the enterprise. APM helps utility organizations reduce outages and cut the time required for restoration. The proactive approach to asset optimization enables utilities to provide reliable service to their customers while also making better use of capital expenditures.

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There has been a great deal of focus lately on asset failures that could create huge losses in terms of maintenance costs and lost production. While it is important to focus efforts on preventing such events, it is equally important to focus on seemingly low‐impact but high frequency failures, or chronic failures. Chronic failures use a lot of manpower and can add up to significant maintenance dollars over time.

In many cases, utilities fail to look at the associated production or distribution loss due to equipment failure or unavailability. Hence, identifying “bad actors” becomes important to improvement efforts. In addition, due to their repeated occurrence, these bad actors might give a false appearance of being the norm, or part of the required maintenance. These hidden losses create a need for benchmarking to identify chronic failing assets and, in turn, drive failure elimination efforts to improve sustainability and availability while reducing costs.

Sometimes failure analysis can be a simple task; other times, it can take months or more to identify the root causes that led to the failure. Different levels of risk and rigor determine different levels of analysis.

Analyzing assets’ past performance includes variations of root-cause analysis, including these methodologies: five‐why, fishbone, tripod diagram, bowtie, fault tree, event tree or logic tree analysis. Actionable recommendations should be the primary outcome of any investigation or analysis. It’s also critical to track the implementation of those recommendations in a structured way as part of an overall process designed to eliminate the problem. As a note of caution, recommendations that reside in a spreadsheet or MS Word are static documents that generally are not acted upon.

For a proactive maintenance strategy to remain effective, the following ever‐greening activities are essential:

  • Bad actor analysis using integrity operating window monitoring, health indicators, metrics, benchmarking, key performance indicators, etc.
  • Root-cause analysis to analyze and prevent recurrence of failures for both sporadic and chronic events. Chronic events can be identified using bad actor analysis, and prioritized for root-cause analysis considering total cost of unreliability (maintenance cost plus lost opportunity production value)
  • Re-evaluation of risk-based inspection using updated inspections and related inspection confidence levels (typically following turnarounds)
  • Routine operator rounds to identify tell‐tale signs (per approved maintenance strategies)
  • Updating maintenance strategies/plans using past observations from incidents/failure analysis

A risk‐based maintenance approach can help maintenance personnel identify the cost of unmitigated risk vs. mitigated risk, and the required annual investment necessary to mitigate the risk. This allows the maintenance department or inspection department that was traditionally considered a mere cost center to turn into a profit management center, elevating its importance, presence and reputation to top management.

It is important also to accurately identify problems and then uncover solutions. Solutions often are “below the surface.” The obvious failure is well known: something broke, something was fixed. But what was the underlying cause of that failure? APM provides the framework for performance-driven, goal-oriented asset management optimization by addressing all aspects and challenges of operational maintenance in a single, comprehensive system. After identifying critical assets through a risk-based approach, an APM system applies advanced analytics helping to identify an optimal asset strategy for a utility’s generation and distribution systems and infrastructures.

In addition, today’s advanced technological capabilities allow utility operators and maintenance personnel to view their multiple generation plants across an enterprise as well as entire distribution networks and assets. Displayed in a geographic map view, APM software will provide utilities with asset health and condition information in an intuitive visual interface. This provides improved network and asset management optimization by displaying system age, criticality and current conditions, all of which influence maintenance and repair strategies.

APM and the use of appropriate condition monitoring strategies can provide incredible insight to utilities that will improve not only an asset’s reliability factor but those of systems, units and networks as well. These types of tools add significant value to resource constrained entities to further maintain, as well as improve, their overall expected performance.

APM is critical for today’s utilities. The worldwide increase in demand for electrical power, coupled with stronger environmental regulations, means changes for the utility and power industry.

These new and complex challenges impact operations every day, from the growth of variable generation to the volume of electric vehicles to the management of an active distribution network. Implementing APM provides organizations with a holistic view of utility operations, leading to better managed reliability strategy and operational risk.

Utilities need a robust APM program to reduce continued outages and chronic asset failures, and keep services up and running, improving grid and network availability. The additional advanced software and technology solutions found in an APM will centralize data, helping utilities identify minor problems early before they become major.


Walter Walejeski is utilities product manager at Meridium.

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