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UTILITY Week 11th April 2014

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26 | 11th - 17th April 2014 | UtilitY WEEK Operations & Assets Market view E xtreme weather has battered the UK and the rest of Europe since just before Christmas. Last month Serbia declared a localised state of emergency because of the snow storms that have blitzed the centre and east of the continent. In the UK the impact of these sustained nationwide storms has been huge disruption to national power networks. Approximately 750,000 properties were cut off, some le without power for up to five days over Christmas. Subsequently, energy bosses and network management companies were publicly criti- cised by a select committee for their tardy response to these events. The energy firms were ordered to review their policies and processes for compensation where custom- ers without power for between 48 and 60 hours were paid a "pittance" of £27. Minis- ters will expect a far greater compensation scheme, which means future power outages (as a result of extreme weather) will affect the profitability of energy firms in future. So now that network operators and their respective chief executives and managing directors have regrouped, questions will be asked of their operational infrastructure teams about contingency plans for the next wave of adverse weather. This process usu- ally begins with "what went wrong?" and then progresses to "how do we fix it?" This will lead to an evaluation of embed- ded outage management systems (OMS) and processes to remove weaknesses and upgrade legacy systems with advanced tech- nology based on geographical information systems (GIS). Leading edge OMS is required to inte- grate varied operational systems together such as advanced metering infrastructure, GIS, customer information systems, inter- active voice response, supervisory control and data acquisition systems, distribution management systems and mobile data sys- tems to link near real-time and dynamic data from the field with customer and asset information to provide an accurate means of predicting the location and cause of the power outage and enable effective power restoration. However, there are some challenges and problems with the current way many OMS are used that could cause the delay in restor- ing the full network. These include: • a customer calling to report an outage is still the main input for traditional OMS. During severe storms, phone lines to the call centre can be jammed and impor- tant outage information can therefore be missed or delayed; • dedicated call handling and interactive voice response is not intelligent enough to filter outage calls from other customer calls accurately; • OMS has limited intelligence to detect and verify nested outages, which can go unnoticed for several hours during severe storms; • crews dispatched to the incorrect location or return trips for nested outages have cost implications; • dispatchers relying on customers report- ing outages oen have limited visibility to the electrical network conditions. Utility firms are in luck. Over the past dec- ade there has been significant improvement to OMS, largely due to the advent and large- scale use of smart meters and the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) network. AMI extends to the ends of a utility network, in this case the customer's home. It can pro- vide remote monitoring of homes to properly assess the scale and gravity of outages prior to receiving the first call from a customer. Smart meters are designed to send an alert when they experience a sustained inter- ruption of electrical supply. This alert is oen referred to as a "last gasp" aer the outage occurs and before the meter loses its capabil- ity to communicate due to the loss of power. This can be used not only to pinpoint outages but also to verify power restora- tion, enabling utilities to proactively iden- tify customers whose power is still out, and those who have been restored. This is crucial because call centres deal with large call vol- umes and power-out requests. The impor- tance of the customer power-out request naturally escalates and becomes more severe over time. It is important for decision-makers to prioritise restoration efforts with real-time information. The effective dispatch of appro- priate personnel and equipment will save time and expedite full power restoration. The OMS, through AMI and other pro- cesses, will collect messages from all smart meters and then analyse this information for the utility control centre dispatchers. They will be armed with more accurate informa- tion about where the fault is located on the network, which is valuable for understand- ing the magnitude of outage incidents and prioritising restoration efforts. While in the process of repairing the faults, dispatch- ers can also ping an individual meter or a group of meters to confirm that power has been restored. Pinging a group of meters oen results in identifying nested outages that were previously hidden under a larger, known system outage. Crews can then be dispatched to attend to the nested outages before they are moved to a different area. All of these benefits help to expedite the speed of repairs and ultimately the restora- tion of power. Almost understated, it also helps reduce the operational expenditure when managing a power outage, and prop- erly validates compensation claims. Because customers depend on electricity to survive, utilities are sensitive about pub- licly discussing the costs of managing power outages. However, cost is a real concern. The utility industry is facing many cost chal- lenges in replacing ageing infrastructure, maintaining customer satisfaction, meeting a growing demand for power, improving reli- ability, and regulatory issues and environ- mental concerns. An overhaul of OMS may now jump up the list of priorities, if it was not there already. Europe will endure more adverse weather. How power firms look at OMS and its capa- bility to efficiently identify power outages with AMI, recognise potential faults and manage repair crews, could mean that cus- tomers are not at risk unnecessarily. It may also mean firms avoid huge compensation claims from customers. Thomas Crawford, senior manager, Global Smart Energy Services, Capgemini OMS, it's a blackout! Recent extreme weather should serve as a lesson to network companies – next time they need to act more quickly, or suffer financial and reputational damage, says Thomas Crawford.

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