• Storms, blackouts and how the Internet of Things supports utilities and their customers

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The last big storm that hit Sarah’s neighbourhood posed a major disruption. Fallen trees on electrical wires and a blown-out transformer left her without power for two days. That was three years ago. This type of unexpected incident left her with no choice but to drive her two children 45 minutes away from home and stay with her sister until power was restored to the neighbourhood.

Back then, this type of outage massively disrupted operations, not to mention the utility’s reputation. Switchboard operators were flooded with phone calls from angry customers, and service teams had to be dispatched to locate where the damage had taken place. Then it took hours and hours to troubleshoot and repair the actual equipment problems. The entire situation was both costly and stressful.

Fortunately, both the utility and its customers like Sarah will not have to relive that experience. Since the last storm, Sarah’s power supplier has partnered with Schneider Electric to implement a system that performs precise storm-related predictive analysis. The result is that the region is much more prepared to handle extreme weather scenarios. Disruption of service to customers is now kept to a minimum.

Smart tools, harvested data and connected technologies make the difference

The utility company can now forecast storm parameters such as high winds and lightning strikes, identifying the areas likely to sustain most damage from an incoming storm, and predict which equipment in the field is most likely to fail. Before the storm hits, the utility company uses Schneider Electric weather services data to position maintenance crews near where the damage is likely to occur. In addition, when a part of the grid sustains an outage, Schneider’s outage management applications make the network smart enough to reroute to the cheapest, fastest, and most available energy source. With data coming from smart devices in the field that can, for example, send an sms to indicate they spotted the passage of a fault, it’s located much faster, thus shortening the time to dispatch a field crew to restore power.

As more smart metering programs are deployed, the utility company can also integrate detailed meter data in their customer relationship management (CRM) platform, providing the utility’s customer service teams with a new level of operational intelligence to deliver exceptional service. This time, even before Sarah reports that her lights are out, the system continuously monitors the status of her meter to confirm the extent of the power outage in her neighbourhood. Customer services representatives can check, confirm, and proactively reassure customers while network operators use this data for speedy remote supply restoration to undamaged areas of the grid.
More and more smart devices in the field gather timely utility infrastructure data. That data gets uploaded and consolidated across platforms running specific algorithms. With time, the dashboards generated help utility operators make accurate predictions based on detailed historical patterns of where storms statistically hit the hardest and possibly harden the network in those areas. That’s the Internet of Things (IoT) helping utilities enhance overall operational intelligence and increase their grid’s resilience.

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