After the United States suffered through the worst storm in history on the east coast, storm response is on everyone’s mind. So how can utilities prepare and plan for the unpredictable? According to Jeff Lewis, expert in electric utility reliability at PA Consulting Group and ReliabilityOne, the best and successful storm response is managed through “a combination of people, process and technology.”
How did the utilities do after Hurricane Sandy?
“According to our analysis, we observed that five of 11 utilities across the Tri-State area restored power to over 90% of their customers by Sunday, Nov. 4,” said Lewis. “However, while the majority of customers may have been restored within the general Estimated Time of Restoration (ETR) of 7 to 10 days, many customers may experience outages for over two weeks after the storm and will have to bear yet another weekend without power in freezing temperatures.”
For utilities, being strategic in the preparation and planning for major storms improves the restoration times, minimizes risks to public safety, and improves public perception of the utility, as the extreme weather impacts from Hurricanes Sandy and Irene over the past two years have shown.
Lewis, who has completed more than 100 certifications of systems and processes that include emergency response plans for major events, noted that regulators are responding in an unprecedented manner, requiring utilities to improve all aspects of their restoration practices including: readiness, communications and outage reporting, and restoration.
'A combination of people, process and technology'
According to Lewis, managing “a combination of people, process and technology” is the solution to successful storm response.
People involves optimal staffing coverage by hour, day and month along with appropriate training, Process involves response time reduction through best practice implementation and communication, while technology involves data analysis and organization through mobile solutions in the field. A robust pre-storm preparation will lay the foundation for a successful response, and this preparation is paramount when dealing with a major event.
People: Last week New Jersey Governor Christie urged utilities to make more progress and “throw out their playbooks,” fast tracking discussions with FEMA to coordinate additional resources to restore power. And although it may be too early to assess the repercussions or the full cost recovery sought by utilities, New York Governor Cuomo instructed the state Public Service Commission to begin proceedings to revoke certificates for utilities that had performed poorly.
In an effort to aid restoration, utilities mobilized employees and contractors and secured approximately 17,000 additional linemen, including out-of-state utility assistance from as far as California to assist with the storm. However, these increases came almost four days after the storm. So to improve future effectiveness and response times, utilities should:
Process and Technology: With many customers experiencing power outages for over a week in the aftermath of Sandy and Irene, with an estimate of over six million customers without power in the Tri-State region, the response by some utilities has drawn the wrath of regulators and politicians.
Lewis said that the key challenge for utilities to accurately issue ETRs after Sandy has been to assess damage caused by the storm. In some areas the effort has required the utility to rebuild entire sections of their electric distribution system. A combination of process and technology can greatly improve this stage of storm response in both a)communication to customers and b)response and restoration: