Time and again, we hear of major outages and blackouts across the world, followed by the news of time taken to restore due to various reasons. Some of the recent incidents include:
- April 2015: A major outage hit the Washington area, the White House, the Capitol and the State Department and stretched from downtown Washington into neighboring Maryland, affecting more than 2,500 people, important office buildings, servers and metros. Suspected reason: issue with the transmission lines.
- March 2015: A power blackout hit the Amsterdam region for more than five hours affecting millions of households, national public sector networks and international flights. Suspected reason: a technical fault at a substation, where a backup system also failed.
- July 2012: One of the worst blackout in India's history hit seven northern states, and affecting 350 million people for more than eight hours Suspected reason: mismanagement of power distribution.
Outage to restoration management is a complex process, which is further complicated by various regulatory controls, financial limits, customer SLA's and technical limitations. Despite the intricacy presented by this business function, it forms an important part of an electric utility operations. Here are five areas of emerging technologies that can help utilities overcome the challenges:
Intelligent grid technologies:
In the near term, electric grid control and management devices will be integrated with distribution devices like Automated Feeder Switches (AFS), Fault Control Indicators (FCI) and transformer monitors that will support existing DNP3 over IPv6, opening up a standardized architecture to support vendor agnostic field devices. This will provide an opportunity to evolve grid devices into a common architecture and deploy robust security infrastructure, including time tested, full scale PKI encryption.
Communication network technologies:
As communication networks are often vendor defined and private in nature, most utilities are required to incur a large upfront investment to deploy digital devices on a private vendor network that cannot be easily leveraged for devices from other vendors. The other possibility is to manage efficiently the network on a common preferred carrier platform with guaranteed SLA's, providing options to deploy digital control devices at significantly lower initial and on-going operating costs.
Work and field force management technologies:
Currently, most of the automation present in the outage to the restoration process is focused on crew dispatch and identification of failed electric assets. It is not well integrated with other dimensions of outage like customer communication and execution of fieldwork. Integration of emerging technologies such as in-vehicle computing, worker gear, crew mobility, remote operations and collaboration will provide a unique opportunity to enable a 360 view of the restoration process.
Adaptive and self-learning systems:
Integration of adaptive learning systems can help interpret, correlate and pinpoint the type of outage with precise location information. It can further help in predicting an evolving issue, detailing the extent of the impact and enabling early customer communication. Self-learning systems are supported by massive data processing and analytical technologies, which help in proactive problem identification.
Personalized customer communication technologies:
In today's digital world, customers expect a multi-channel communication that will follow the 'customer' instead of them receiving disjointed messages through various traditional channels. It is important for the utilities to locate a customer impacted from an outage and accurately communicate the outage with expected restoration times.