Northeast storm aftermath – how a smarter grid could help

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By: SGN Staff

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By Jonas Olsen

 

Several Northeast states are up in arms over the time it has taken their utilities to restore service after the freak snowstorm in October. The uproar made me realize once again that our industry is doing a poor job of tying smart grid to customer benefits – in this case, to the benefit of faster restoration. When Jonas Olsen of On-Ramp Wireless offered up his perspective, I wanted to run it as a reminder. When planning your next move and making your next rate case, don't forget to consider upgrades that can make the grid more resilient against disasters. Your regulators and ratepayers will thank you. – Jesse Berst

 

The historic storm that struck the Northeast continued to affect hundreds of thousands of residents, often for several days, as utilities worked to restore power. Just the costs of getting things back to normal is exorbitant, as employees were brought in from other states, paid double for their time, and provided room and board while they worked. The timing for this disaster could not have been worse, coming right off the heels of Hurricane Irene.

 

However, if we had communications technologies in place before the storms, we could drastically reduce the length of outages – beneficial for consumers and utilities alike.

 

So the first question is: how do we build a smarter, connected grid?

 

Start with wireless sensors

One of the first places to start is with sensing technology. Having better sensors within the distribution grid, both above and below ground, would help utilities identify where the damage is. This is critical for a utility because of the massive amounts of hard-to-reach endpoints in harsh environments including substations, distribution circuits, pad-mount boxes and below ground vaults. Finding the problem faster will lead to better prioritization of tasks and speedier restoration of service to customers.

 

But which communication system works effectively given these circumstances? Automated sensing applications, connected wirelessly, can provide feedback to utilities in near real-time, allowing them to pinpoint the exact location of the damage and react. By constantly sending utilities small bursts of information from distribution grid sensors, smart meters, smart transformers, power lines and substations, they can save time and manpower associated with sending someone to the endpoint to determine what the problem is and how to fix it. During large disasters like the Northeast storm, having real-time data can make all the difference in planning and prioritizing outage responses.

 

Utilities should be considering wireless distribution automation options before the next major storm or natural disaster. There are sensor options with low upfront costs available that could potentially save a utility millions of dollars.

 

If you’re a utility and you have any other words of wisdom for how to prepare, please use the comment form below. 

 

Jonas Olsen is VP of EMEA Business Development and Strategic Marketing at On-Ramp Wireless, www.onrampwireless.com.

 

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