Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NY Gov Cuomo's post Hurricane Sandy letter to utilities should be a wake up call for utilities everywhere!

I have been saying in my presentations for several years that having and using the very best electronics, telecommunications and information technologies for all aspects of electric utility planning, operations and management will increasingly be considered to be minimum prudent utility practice. For example, in the context of the Hurricane Sandy circumstances, automated outage management systems could have improved utility response, shortened some service outages and improve communications with customers. Hundreds of electric utilities have been successfully using OMS for a decade and it is clearly prudent utility practice.

As utilities experience outages that affect significant numbers of customers and/or extended periods of time, they will be challenged by customers (sometimes in lawsuits), regulators, legislators and others as to whether they made adequate preparations with systems deployed for automated outage response, customer communications, and disaster recovery.

Governor Cuomo's letter to the large utilities in NY, while obviously partly politically posturing, has significant real substance. It has already cost LIPA's CEO his job. There will be additional adverse ramifications because none of the large utilities in NY have or use a good OMS, nor do they have what would be considered in the 21st century to be state of the art customer communications. Nor were they even prepared to provide backup power sources to residential or commercial customers to enable them to charge their communications, computer and personal health devices.

To substantially enhance the physical security of our existing monolithic, centralized grid it must be "hardened" . . . by burying and/or reinforcing the power lines, substations and other critical facilities . . . and physically reinforcing the grid with greater redundancy of generation and transmission. This will be prohibitively expensive up front, prohibitively expensive and unbearably inconvenient on an ongoing basis, and take a long time to implement. Physical hardening of the grid, where feasible, is desirable, but this is not the best long term solution.

In the longer term the solution is moving to more decentralized generation, storage and automated real time load management via nanogrids and microgrids which are reaggregated into a virtual supergrid.

In the interim, however, a more intelligent grid is a more physically secure grid. It will be more technically and economically feasible as well as more quickly implemented to maximize real time monitoring and control of the grid via wide deployment of intelligent electronic devices connected via the Internet of Things for two-way, high speed telecommunications, and new planning and operating models based upon new algorithms. This will allow utilities to respond more quickly to physical security threats or breaches, but, even more importantly, to anticipate and avoid same.

One result of Hurricane Sandy, the straight line wind storms in the NE and the far west, etc. will be increased deployment by retail and commercial customers of distributed backup generation. Ditto in the event that there are brownouts, blackouts resulting from inadequate centralized generation and transmission resources. This will represent a gradual unraveling of the monolithic, centralized, cost-plus monopoly franchise model, creating more opportunities for forward thinking utilities and non-utility providers (i.e., the dreaded "disintermediaries").

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