Since the beginning of the utility business, power systems have provided customers with light and power. These systems are built and designed to be safe, reliable and reasonably priced. But, like most things, they also need to evolve with the times. That presents considerable challenges for the industry.
For example, how does the industry ensure equipment can withstand severe storms and weather patterns? And how do utilities ensure customers are being communicated with effectively and continuously? In this age of 24-hour news, smartphones and instant access to information everywhere, the bar is set quite high.
It is not easy, and it is an ongoing journey. But this is where National Grid is now in terms of keeping all stakeholders informed.
Getting It Quick, Getting It Right
It is no mystery, when power is off, customers want it back as soon as possible. They also want communication as service is restored. Their expectations for frequent, detailed information and reliability have never been higher. And, in an instant-gratification society, customers cannot and will not wait for innovations of the future to come to market.
One piece of this puzzle is to evolve from the power grid that Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse conceived to smart, resilient networks with robust communications capabilities. The problem is most existing networks still provide one-way power, and they do not offer constant communication.
Historically, restoration efforts have used whatever technology was available at the time. Paper-based systems were the norm until the 1990s. During the past few decades, utilities have invested heavily in outage management systems with computerized connected network models. Using advanced metering infrastructure, customer calls and system topology, utilities have more information available to speed restoration.
While these systems have brought many benefits, they still are tailored mostly to meet internal needs to manage an event response. In addition, most organizations have invested in systems that manage other aspects of their business, for example, work management, GPS-enabled vehicle location and weather monitoring. However, these systems are rarely integrated because of cost, timing and other factors. As a result, providing information efficiently can be a real challenge. The challenge becomes even bigger in large events and emergencies when an entire organization shifts from day-to-day work to storm assignments.
Data quality is another important factor. While most organizations have useful data, it may not always be accurate or complete. The key here is culture. Data itself must be seen as an asset, a key to driving the operational and asset decisions made day to day and in times of crisis.
Over the last few years, “big data” and “data fusion” have been at the forefront of the technical landscape. While these terms may seem like the flavor of the month, the concept is critical. They focus on bringing different data streams together, like a puzzle, building the big picture to be considered. In the past, information was compartmentalized: operations, engineering and so on. In the real world, all of these areas are related. Therefore, National Grid started by identifying opportunities to better share information internally using existing technology. National Grid quickly knew that wouldn’t be enough — making real change would require a new approach.