Preparing for the Next Sandy

Situational intelligence helps utilities rapidly repair outages caused by severe weather.

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Severe weather—you can find it every day on the Weather channel, moving across America as large storms (often with tornadoes) that pose a direct threat to the lives and power supply for thousands of utility customers.

A serious storm with major outages is expensive. Major events such as Hurricane Sandy can cost in the billions of dollars. By example, a utility with 1,200,000 customers with 288,000 affected customers is spending on average $48 per day per affected customer. A 10-day outage event can cost the utility as much as $138,240,000.

How does a utility in the Great Plains or on the East Coast prepare for impending severe weather? Space-Time Insight software provides utilities with the ability to visually assess on large screens the performance of their electric grid, analyzing and correlating millions of data points from multiple sources—a critical requirement in the deployment of Wide Area Situational Awareness (WASA) systems. Designed to accommodate the microsecond measurements recorded by synchrophasors—devices used to measure the state and quality of the power system 60 times a second—the software arms control room provides operators with timely information needed to make instant decisions that impact grid stability and availability.

Obviously, there’s nothing a utility can do to stop a major storm. But, they can monitor the immediate impact of storms on their customers and precisely find where the outages are located. If a tree has fallen on power lines, if a transformer has blown, if a facility has flooded—they can instantly find out where the problem is located and send a crew to fix it and get the grid back up.

What’ the Problem? Where’s the Problem? Those have been some of the most significant issues when utilities have been faced with massive outages, similar to Hurricane Sandy last year on the East Coast—finding and fixing the problem as soon as possible. Many utilities are still reliant on “old school” databases, spreadsheets and operational charts to run their operations. Everyone has seen the TV footage of utility trucks negotiating and searching their way through streets blocked by downed trees or two feet of snow. Ask any frustrated utility customer whose power has been out for four days while they wait as the utility’s repair crews are simply trying to find the problem.

Knowing the status of their grid not only makes practical sense for the utility—they can provide updates to their customers sitting in the dark with flashlights about when, approximately, their service will be restored.

"This is especially true with the rollout of smart meter and wide area situational awareness systems that not only generate huge volumes of data, but the success of their operation depends on real-time or near real-time interpretation of that data," said Steve Ehrlich, senior vice president of marketing for Space-Time Insight, "The situation is exacerbated by the need to correlate multiple internal and external sources of data, all arriving in different formats, at different speeds and at different times."

There’s a better way to see the current grid status. The storm is over, the grid data pours in. How do you make sense of it? The situational intelligence provided by Space-Time Insight helps utilities manage the data onslaught and make more rapid, intelligent decisions as a result. Operators can visualize (“see”) operational problems or situations on large screens, point to it with their finger, and then electronically direct their crews to quickly fix the problem.

"Geospatial displays used in conjunction with more traditional analytics are at the center of this revolution since they provide the framework for the visualization as well as a jumping-off point for further analysis and action," Ehrlich said.

Turn on the Weather Channel. Somewhere the sky is darkening as clouds gather and a storm builds. Hurricane Sandy and innumerable storms and tornadoes point out the need for situational intelligence where utilities need to know what’s happening, real-time, to their grid to save lives and money.

Situational intelligence correlates data from synchrophasors with other data and events, such as weather, fires, smart meter data, outage data and customer service calls—so that utilities gain a complete understanding of a problem and can fix it more rapidly. That information is provided on large screens in their control centers, color coded for system status. Operators can identify the exact failure shown on the screen to determine the cause and send a crew with the appropriate skills and equipment for repairs.

"By understanding a situation in real-time and reacting to it even a few minutes faster, utilities can save lives and property," Ehrlich said.

Situational intelligence helps preserve revenue. When outages occur, a map showing the areas with the most customers affected provides focus to service crews to prioritize their triage. Situational intelligence also reduces costs by visualizing the failure rate of assets over time, triggering guidance to replace them or modify their maintenance plan.

In short, Situational intelligence provides:

· Improved ability to anticipate and prioritize service restoration;

· Faster assessment of situation;

· More collaborative response;

· Reduce risk, duration, and cost of outages;

· Leverage existing IT investment;

· Lower operating and planning costs; and

· Develop a more resilient system.

"Consumers are demanding more customer-friendly service, regulators are pushing for higher standards such as use of renewable energy, their infrastructure is aging as is their workforce, and new developments like smart meters are stressing their operations," Ehrlich said.

With situational intelligence, consumers get more timely information about how to make best use of their services using smart meters and demand response, and threshold alarms and alerts help avoid costly fines. As more smart devices and property are added to the smart grid, the need for situational intelligence becomes even more critical.

"It is one thing to know that when you roll out two million smart meters you will receive a certain amount of data per meter, and there is a defined set of value you can derive from that data," Ehrlich said. "But when electric vehicles, smart buildings, smart homes and smart cities come along, the issues are many times more complex."

For more information about Space-Time Insight or other products, click here to go to Utility Products’ Buyers Guide.

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