Effects of Storm Jonas on Utilities

Storm Jonas

From January 22, 2016 to January 24, 2016, the Mid-Atlantic through the Northeast regions of the United States were hit hard with a major blizzard, called Storm Jonas, which affected approximately 103 million people.  It took many by surprise after having a relatively warm winter. In its aftermath, some states saw up to three feet of snow.

Governors of eleven states declared a state of emergency and the National Guard was deployed and distributed road salt throughout the affected areas. Utility companies were faced with the responsibility of getting their customers up and running as quickly as possible.

Con Edison pro-actively helped their customers to avert more than 1,000 power outages during the Blizzard due to one billion dollar upgrades it had performed to its infrastructure over the past three years. Specifically, Con Edison observed that more than 1,000 customers in Brooklyn and Queens would have experienced outages if not for new equipment installed along overhead wiring, streamlined to make the system more durable, thus preventing outages. These improvements helped Con Edison address other outages. More than 4,500 storm related power outages occurred. Con Edison’s crews were able to respond quickly to restore power in the heaviest hit areas and by Monday when the storm ended all customers were backed up.

Con Edison’s mobile solutions also helped customers manage their accounts, report and check the status of an outage and learn energy-saving tips, thereby helping them be able to contact Con Edison quicker and minimize hazards.

Companies in warmer areas sent trucks to help with the affected area in a show of support. For example Tampa Electric sent about 250 workers to North Carolina to help Duke Energy in the Carolinas.

Although there was some damage, the actions of states working together with citizens and utility companies helped minimize the threats. State Governors set the tone for actions to be taken during the storm on a state level and were in contact with Utility companies.

For example, New Jersey State Governor Chris Christie’s representatives were on conference calls with the power companies and helped direct customers to utility resources. States of Emergency were called so that only essential vehicles could be on the road. The BPU, or New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, activated a storm cloud reporting system to help power companies track outages. This helped the utility companies provide a more rapid response in the face of the storm.

Duke Energy in North Carolina deployed about 3,200 line workers in the area to deal with the storm.

In Maryland, Baltimore Gas & Electric said about 12,000 customers had lost service, but the end of the storm power had returned nearly all. During the worst of the storm, 5,500 BG&E customers were without power.

Ultimately, Storm Jonas greatly affected the utilities on the East Coast. Luckily, state officials were able to predict it and declare a state of emergency ahead of time. Con Edison’s technology also helped lessen the effects of the storm. For other utilities however, there was still damage, and numerous individuals still lost their power.



Big Data in the Utility Industry

The-Big-Risks-of-Big-Data-MiningThe amount of data that is now at our fingertips is consistently increasing and so are the analytics required to reap their benefits. This trend is expected to continue as the digital atmosphere is projected to be 44 times larger in 2020 than it was in 2009.  This means that not only are we able to store more data as a whole, but that this data in almost all cases will continue to get more detailed – leading to more specific and more effective results. These results can be used for almost anything from creating more innovative operation strategies, to better reaching consumers, to even predicting the “next big trend” within your industry. The utility industry is not exempt from this Big Data expansion and in fact has the burden (or blessing) of having an overwhelming amount of data to deal with.

As our previous blog mentioned, innovation with regards to smart technologies and efficiency will soon be affecting the ways in which we produce, harvest, and share our electricity. Within these advancements will also come the ability for utility systems to produce and distribute their own data regarding anything from smart meters to outage management system information (MSI).  With all of these very different and intricate sets of data coming together, one of the biggest challenges the utility industry will face is determining which data sets are to take priority, which to supplement, and the analytics that creates the best mesh. The ability to accurately do this will give companies the capacity to predict and prevent problems rather than having to fix a problem after it has already arose. This will be the case with regards to almost every facet of the utility process.

Solutions have already been proposed and introduced in the way of analyzing data from electrical grids. In early 2014 at DistribuTECH – the largest conference for the electric and gas utility industry – GE Digital Energy announced their own solution for Big Data and the various challenges utilities are up against. This solution is Grid IQ Insight’s Advanced Meter Insight. This solution is powered by Predix – GE’s industrial internet software platform. This is the first of five applications that GE Digital Energy plans to release under Grid IQ Insight. This application provides a platform that enables analytics to be produced that let utilities visualize and learn more about their operations via massive amounts of data. This essentially brings utilities one step closer to being as efficient as possible with all of the information they are now able to harvest about their services and maximize their value.

An example of these analytics creating greater efficiency and preventing rather than fixing includes social media. By utilizing the social media analysis facet that this technology is capable of, utilities are able to monitor the average amount of social media activity in a given consumer area, (tweets, posts, shares, etc.) and, when these numbers fluctuate for any reason, they are able to determine whether a connectivity or electrical problem is to blame. This puts them ahead of the problem before it matures and limits the number of frustrated consumers. Even more so, after this remedy is applied, utilities will be able to more easily discourage the problem from happening again.

The next step is for utilities to continue to invest in these new technologies and to ensure their services and technologies are as versatile as possible for what’s to come in the future. Innovative advancements like that of GE bring us that much closer to being the most efficient, economic and canny consumers/producers of energy that there have ever been.


What is the Utility Company’s Place in the Sustainable Energy Revolution?

Sustainable Energy Revolution

Since 2011, power companies have been selling less and less electricity.  Current trends in the industry illuminate the possibility of an ever-increasing dip in electric use as homes go solar, appliances become more efficient, electronic gadgets do more with less power, and cloud computing allows companies to rely on less energy-sucking servers.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) also lends itself to believe that U.S. homes and buildings are using less electricity because structures are better insulated, and the warmer winters and cooler summers reduce demand.

Solar power and distributed energy have caught on, and although solar is still a small part in the over-all energy industry of America – making up just over 1% of the total national generation capacity – it has quadrupled in 2010-2014.  These numbers are compelling and are the challenge staring utility companies in the face.  As solar power becomes less expensive, it allows for more and more panels to be installed in homes.  With the decrease in use of electricity, the utilities’ rates for remaining customers will go up, making solar energy even more appealing.  This is the vicious cycle that threatens to weaken utility companies and lends itself to the potential risk of decentralizing America’s power system in the future.

This cycle, however, does not spell immediate doom for utilities, and the power company’s potential shift in power may have a silver lining.  Today, Americans spend about $1.4 billion on fuel for their vehicles which was an abundant market that the electric companies could not tap into.  However, in the new era of sustainable energy, by providing charging systems and contracting with owners to buy back energy stored in vehicles’ batteries, the increase in plug-in vehicles could be the new business model utility companies need.

Plug-in cars can easily be underestimated.  At a mere 250,000 electric cars now on American roads, they account for only 1% of vehicles sold, which doesn’t seem much on paper.  However, sales have only risen with each year.  And, the good news to utility companies is that homes that own a plug-in car typically consumes 58% more electricity.  By riding the wave of efficient energy use and the increase in electric powered cars, it may be a game-changer for utility companies to ensure their existence in America’s future transportation infrastructure.

A downside to this wave of efficient energy use in America is that it could possibly lead to the overall population investing in solar energy for their homes which leaves little room for utility companies as people would rely on “home-brewed” energy for their everyday needs.  It is imperative that the sustainable energy revolution be taken seriously by utility companies and that they embrace the impending change in America’s energy use.  The industry of sustainable energy has untapped growth and potential, while utility companies must begin thinking of innovative ways to stay alive and prevalent in the new energy era.