5 New Year’s Resolutions to Help Utilities Improve Operations
Now that holiday celebrations are in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to plan for the year ahead. Here are some technology resolutions you can make to improve your operational efficiencies.
1: Detect transient faults on overhead networks
Many electric utilities have miles of medium voltage lines in rural or remote locations. Isolating faults on these lines is challenging and often requires the use of fault current indicators, which require regular maintenance and offer higher total cost of ownership than newer smart-grid sensor technology.
With smart grid sensors, utilities can detect faults in real time and continuously monitor power quality across all three phases of their medium voltage distribution networks. With this actionable data, you can:
- Detect overload and imbalance conditions.
- Perform real-time load and substation monitoring
- Reduce outage durations and improve reliability indicators such as SAIFI, CAIDI, and SAIDI
- Improve power quality and customer satisfaction
- Maximize asset life and utilization
You can boost situational awareness as well as the reliability, efficiency and power quality with grid monitoring using smart grid sensors. Find out how Aclara customers employ smart grid sensors from the following case studies.
- UK Power Networks, one the United Kingdom’s largest distribution network operators. is using data from smart grid sensors recently launched a ground-breaking project entailing the development of an algorithm that can accurately predict fault location on overhead circuits and distinguish false alarms from true outages. Read more.
- DTE Energy in Michigan provides more reliable service to its customers by deploying line sensors at its unmonitored substations, at a fraction of the cost to set up SCADA. Read more.
- Manitoba Hydro in Canada gained real-time visibility into the load at the critical substations with a cost-effective, easy-to-install grid monitoring solutions comprised of smart grid sensors. Read more.
- Western Power Distribution (WPD), one of six electricity Distribution Network Operators in the United Kingdom, is improving reliability, optimizing network planning and gaining real-time visibility into its distribution grid. Read more.
2: Take Control of Distributed Energy Resources
Distributed energy resources (DERs) are establishing a new paradigm for electric utilities. Wind, solar and battery storage technologies affect grid operations, and managing these resources effectively can make a real difference in both operational efficiencies and costs. The industry group Advanced Energy Economy has said that modernizing the grid for two-way energy flows and incorporating new, connected technologies, while maintaining minimal rate impacts, requires that DERs be put to best use.
Software that allows utilities to effectively aggregate distributed energy allows them to balance distributed renewable and traditional generation on the utility grid. These technologies can work together with communications infrastructure and demand response portfolio to improve network stability, efficiency, and reliability.
Cloud-based data control centers, or virtual power plants (VPP), aggregate production data from various distributed energy resources (DERs), allowing utilities to quickly and effectively harness power produced by DERs for the benefit of their customers. VPP technology from Enbala, for example, uses real-time communications infrastructure to monitor, control, coordinate and manage the energy assets connected to the utility.
This technology, when partnered with communications solutions from Aclara, enables utilities to optimize and better manage generation costs, support the integration of renewables and other DERs, maintain grid reliability and stability, manage changing demand patterns and economically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more.
3: Use analytics to generate actionable insights
It’s difficult to accurately assess how much of the water that is pumped into a utility’s distribution system is lost before it is metered, but the Environmental Protection Agency puts the number at 16%, and some experts’ estimates are even higher. In any case, there are basically two ways to lose water before it is metered. One is through leaks in the distribution system, called real losses. The other is through water that is consumed but not paid for, called apparent losses caused by inaccurate meters, theft or billing problems.
Analytics can help you recover from one to five percent of top-line revenue that is now being lost in their systems through apparent losses, as reported by Valor Water Analytics, another one of Aclara’s strategic partners. For a $100 million utility, that amounts to one to five million dollars a year.
Analytics also can ferret out other types of revenue and customer-service improvements. The intelligence derived from analyzing payment patterns, for instance, can help you calculate the risk of specific customers defaulting on payments. This analysis allows development of proactive outreach to at-risk customers with special programs designed to reduce the number of cut-offs and delinquent payments.
Read more about reducing apparent losses and improving customer service with analytics.
4: Plug water leaks on your distribution networks
Water loss control can be challenging, confusing, and time-consuming. Effective water loss control requires a multi-step process, including water audit (also referred to as a water balance), component analysis and intervention.
Each of these water-loss control phases is data heavy, requires accuracy, and can be labor intensive. Data quality and data collection prove the greatest challenge for you when completing a water audit for the first time.
Analytics can give you the information you need to identify apparent losses for a water audit, but the hardware on your distribution system also plays a role. Extending the existing infrastructure with acoustic sensors that can find real water losses in the form of leaks on water mains before they surface. Aclara’s STAR® ZoneScan leak detection solution, for example, can pinpoint leaks within a few feet.
For more insight into reducing apparent and real water losses, download the white paper.
5: Get in touch with your customers
Customers are starting to expect more from utilities and you should be looking for ways to gain their loyalty and trust. According to Michael Gianunzio, chief legislative and regulatory affairs officer of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the next big challenge for electric utilities is to change their relationship with their customers.
In an article posted on Energy Central, he wrote,” This is about survival, not new lines of business. It is about changing electric consumers from passive ‘so what, the lights come on’ consumers to actively engaged customers who want to use energy wisely. Customer energy literacy, in a new customer paradigm, should be a top priority.”
One way to drive consumer engagement is to create engaging Home Energy Reports (HERs) that are detailed and customer-specific, utilizing information from meter data without additional customer input. Most utilities are sitting on an abundance of this type of data and can use software systems to slice and dice it into information their customers can use to reduce usage and save money.
These next-generation HERs, which can be accessed on multiple electronic devices as well as through mailers, not only use data to provide more value to customers but target the customers who can benefit the most from utility programs designed to reduce usage and costs. The end result is a greater impact, lower cost, and superior customer satisfaction. For the latest on HERs, read our blog
These 5 resolutions can help you make 2018 the year you make financial and operations improvements that will take utility operations to the next level. Your customers will thank you.