Improving outage response with situational preparedness

outage, utility

By John Eason, senior outage response product manager, GE Power

Australia has not escaped the ongoing global trend of intense weather, with 2017 being the third-warmest year on record and annual rainfall coming in at eight per cent above average. In 2016, in response to the increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events, the Australian Senate established the Select Committee on the Resilience of Electricity Infrastructure in a Warming World. A year later, it published its first report, Stability and Affordability: Forging a path to Australia’s renewable energy future. It stated, “The economic consequences of extreme weather events are already substantial, and these negative impacts and economic costs are predicted to become vastly larger as the effects of climate change intensify”.

The recent increase, and likely continued worsening, of storm activity and extreme weather events worldwide has highlighted the need for improving the resiliency of electric grids. In the USA, the Department of Energy outlines resiliency as follows: “Resiliency measures do not prevent damage; rather they enable electric facilities to continue operating despite damage and/or promote a rapid return to normal operations when damages and outages do occur.”

Related article: Heatwave causes power generator shutdowns

Resiliency in the utility world relies on situational preparedness. Situational preparedness starts with situational intelligence, meaning harnessing data and collective intelligence across the organisation, to put the right information at the fingertips of the right people, in order to support decisions and action taking. During severe weather events, utility personnel resources are heavily stressed, yet they must respond effectively and efficiently. Situational intelligence allows personnel to make timely and informed decisions and carry out the appropriate actions during a utility’s most critical outage response periods.

Many of GE Power’s electric distribution customers have realised the need for resiliency across its organisation, and have moved torwards situational preparedness practices throughout their operations. For example some coastal utilities are proactively utilising their GIS data, analysing forecasted surges associated with storms as well as historical records of resource use in similar situations. With this intel in hand they are then able to move personnel and equipment to potentially impacted areas ahead of storm impact.

Another part of situational preparedness is being ready to rapidly and effectively assess the damage to systems, and use that information to restore power quickly and safely during a storm event. In order to be proactive, some GE Power’s utility customers are now undertaking storm response training, some even setting annual storm drill events ahead of storm seasons.

Related article: AEMO instructs networks to start load shedding

Though much of current utility training focuses on those in the field during a storm event, utilities are now also turning to software to facilitate situational preparedness. Sophisticated simulation software allows utilities to train their operators on routine and complex events. Replay engines and event scripts enable teams to develop complex training scenarios with an amazing level of detail. Replaying a major event which includes millions of meter messages, tens of thousands of customer calls, and an equal number of SCADA events, allows electric distribution utilities to evaluate system and team performance for responsiveness and capacity with a level of realism not available a few years ago.

That realism translates into situational preparedness.

Situational preparedness allows utilities to improve their outage response and become more resilient in the face of more frequent and devastating severe weather events.