Five Ways Utilities Can Plan For, and Respond to, Outages

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As I discussed in last week’s post, the non-profit group QUEST has released a report examining the level of awareness among electric, natural gas and thermal energy distributors in Canada about adapting to climate change, and the steps they’re taking to strengthen their infrastructure to prevent, and better respond to, power outages. The report found […]

As I discussed in last week’s post, the non-profit group QUEST has released a report examining the level of awareness among electric, natural gas and thermal energy distributors in Canada about adapting to climate change, and the steps they’re taking to strengthen their infrastructure to prevent, and better respond to, power outages.

The report found that 90 percent of distributors have been negatively affected by a significant weather event in the last decade, yet responses to weather-related events take place on an ad-hoc basis. There is tremendous opportunity for distributors around the world to address risks and improve resiliency in a more systemic fashion, and here are five ways that different organizations are adapting their infrastructure, operations, organizational structure and communications to address climate change risks:

1.Develop adaptation plans/risk assessments using local climate models
Detailed climate analyses and models are key inputs into adaption plans. These plans and assessments are critical because they help identify risks caused by climate change to the distribution system, and allow distributors to strategically direct infrastructure investments to weak areas. Asset renewal planning can help distributors identify assets that need to be renewed before or after severe weather events. 

2.Implement resilient infrastructure solutions
Improving distribution system design standards and hardening the distribution infrastructure will help utilities withstand extreme weather events. Building redundancy into the distribution system, expanding microgrids, and identifying opportunities for distributed energy resources provide for greater grid reliability and resiliency.

3.Enhance operations before, during and after extended outages
Many distributors are integrating smart meter data with outage management systems to pinpoint customer outages. Smart meter data also provides insights into the operating condition and utilization of expensive grid components. Leveraging these insights can enable predictive asset maintenance programs.

Distributors can also enhance operations through enhanced weather forecasting systems, distribution automation solutions and improved right-of-way management.

4.Clarify roles and responsibilities for before, during and after widespread outages
Distributors must clearly define staff roles for before, during, and after extended outages in order to effectively respond to emergency repair and restoration activity, communicate to customers, the public and other utilities. This plan must include mutual assistance agreements with detailed information about crews, spare equipment and design specifications. Lessons learned need to be clearly documented to ensure that the processes are well understood and passed on within the organization.

5.Institute a communications strategy to respond to stakeholders following an outage
There are many different stakeholders in the event of an outage, including an often overlooked one – other utilities. Electricity and natural gas system are highly interdependent. In some cases, electricity is needed for the delivery of natural gas services, such as operating furnaces, boilers, water pumps and heat pumps. Collaborating for emergency preparedness can ensure that customers receive the energy they require.

Improving the resiliency of energy distribution systems is critically important because it ensures the health and welfare of our communities, while also advancing smart energy communities.

This is the second article in a three part series on the “Resilient Pipes and Wires” report. Come back next week for insight into the federal, provincial and local policies that facilitate and impede distributors’ efforts to improve resiliency of systems. 

Tom Crawford is the Smart Grid Lead for Capgemini’s utility sector and he is based in Toronto. He can be reached at thomas.crawford@capgemini.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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