Best Way to Minimize Outages

By: Ganesh Ramjit, Survalent Technology

2015 01 minimize outgaesOver the last decade, the variety and growth of power grids in the United States have seen a tremendous upward trend with advances in technology. Implementing these new innovations has brought about a strong dependency on this infrastructure to provide power to homes and businesses across the country and failure can result in catastrophic loss. Thus, the importance of efficiency in the electrical utilities industry has become an essential part of daily upkeep.

As the power grid continues to evolve to a more complex structure than ever before, the role of power failures when it occurs will see a similar convolution as well. Regardless if it is the forces of nature, equipment failure and human intervention, maintaining an efficient power system is something all electrical utilities have to prioritize to keep at a minimum. There will be a growing number of requirements being demanded by utility companies in order to ensure reliability. The reality of the matter is that there are a large number of utilities with an aging infrastructure, and for most, they will need guidance to stay on the correct path of outage prevention.

These upcoming and potential changes have forced utilities to update the way they keep track of and maintain their electrical systems. An Outage Management System (OMS) is a digital technology that utilities are using to manage crew personnel. An OMS keeps a connected channel with consumers, minimizes outage time and increases reliability. Some of the major functions of an OMS include the ability to predict the outage location based on customer calls and telemetry to field devices around the outage. The system can assist in organizing the restoration efforts and utilizing resources appropriately by searching data collected about the location from downstream devices and the extent of outages. OMS can provide utilities with information on the number of customers that are affected, and can then, in turn supply correct information to the public and management teams. An OMS can send messages to the affected customer with the magnitude of current outages and length of restoration through an IVR system, web portal or even to social media websites. Integrating an OMS with other systems such as AVL will allow utilities to keep track of the crews working directly on solving the issue, and can inform management on how large of a crew will be necessary in order to restore power.

One of the most important systems that assimilate with the Outage Management System is the Geographic Information System (GIS) which optimizes the location predictions based on the embedded device coordinate throughout the service area. The system calculates where outage calls from customers are geographically located, and then utilizes an algorithm engine to locate the outage on the system. Usually when an outage occurs, people call to inform their local electricity provider, and the calls are answered by local workers or call representatives in a call center. Customer information system (CIS) is commonly used for billing purposes and also can be used to feed information into the OMS during outage calls. All of the customer call records are analyzed by the OMS which in turn becomes a prediction tool for locating the outage on the feeder. The success of an OMS is directly proportionate to the accuracy of its records. Making outage predictions, providing accurate reporting statistics and knowing which consumers have power and which do not can be obtained when an OMS is supplied with accurate information.

There are a broad number of companies that can supply an OMS. Narrowing the requirements and looking into some of the benefits referred to earlier in this article will serve to select the best vendor. Ideally, OMS should work to give the dispatcher the final say in decisions by providing him/her an automated, but highly interactive interface when dealing with outage situations. All the data entry in the system is automated, so if a call comes in reporting trouble, the system automatically provides the consumer account and service location. Again, this system gives the dispatcher power in allowing him to override this information when necessary. In the case of an outage, the dispatcher is able to simply click on a map to select the device that is faulty, and then the OMS retrieves all of the vital information about that device. These are all items that are very critical during an outage.

Maintaining outage cases based on calls, AMI, web, and IVR are indispensable in documenting to generate reports and overall housekeeping. Calls can be stored in the system to create a report that provides information about possible outages in the same areas. A fully robust OMS will allow the utility to automatically generate a callback list so that the company can provide callbacks to customers that have been flagged in an outage area. This greatly simplifies the task of prioritizing callbacks. Dispatchers will now be able to gain access to all of the information about callers during an outage. A customer's name, meter number and whether or not their service location is part of the outage case is made clear to the dispatcher. If the customer is calling from an area that has been confirmed as part of the outage area, an OMS will automatically play a pre-recorded message through an IVR system that updates the caller on the state of affairs. The caller then has the opportunity to leave a message with the dispatcher or hold to speak with the dispatcher directly.

Using an OMS in a real-time user interface to assist the utility in finding a specific meter location on the map, locating outages, tracking crew members by their vehicle's GPS position and viewing the entire outage area are going to be key benefits of reducing outages.

It can be very difficult for utility companies to face the challenges of operating within the modern day grid system. The system does not run simply and flawlessly, as it once did in earlier days. The distribution network is incredibly complicated and has seen significant growth in complexity, so quickly that the reliability of the system has decreased. An OMS is a sophisticated technology that is rising to meet the challenges presented by an increasingly complicated grid. Up until this point, people have enjoyed the conveniences utility companies provide while rarely questioning the reliability of the system. They turn on a light switch, and the light is there. They are sure that the room will be illuminated when they flick the switch. This trust of customers is important to maintain. Faced with increasing outages and glitches in the power grid system, consumer trust in the strength of their utility providers may begin to falter. Using outage management systems is a way to work towards keeping consumers happy and keeping utility companies providing their services in the best way possible.