EPRI (Palo Alto, California, U.S.) recently completed the first comprehensive database of electricity distribution practices across the nation because of its Power Delivery Reliability Initiative Distribution Project. Utility companies developing strategies for improved system reliability in the most cost-effective manner will use the information.

"Distribution managers are faced with the difficult challenge of maintaining an aging infrastructure at a time when their companies are under pressure to lower costs," says Rich Lordan, director of EPRI's Power Delivery and Markets Department. "The Reliablity Initiative offers an efficient means to evaluate other practices, identify gaps in achieving their own business reliability goals, and adapt the most effective strategies for their particular business."

The EPRI Reliability Initiative was launched in early 2000 to identify root causes of power reliability problems, share this information among utilities, and develop new methods for improving performance of the electric distribution system. The initiative created separate projects for transmission and distribution through the funding by its more than 40 utility members and in coordination with the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC).

Phase One of the Distribution Project provided detailed audits and in-depth reviews of five unique distribution systems. This effort generated a report that outlined outage causes and made recommendations for design modifications and changes in operational and maintenance practices. These results were the foundation for the Distribution Program Knowledge Base, which assists utilities in performing self-assessments of key distribution system functions. Using the web-based Distribution Reliability Self Assessment Template (DRSAT), participants are able to review industry practices and assess their own practices in key areas such as asset management, planning, maintenance, operations and engineering.

In Phase Two, EPRI and EXL Consulting (Pleasanton, California, U.S.) conducted in-depth interviews to confirm the key drivers that impact a company's goals for improving reliability. More than 100 utility managers were questioned about their company's practices in areas such as asset management, vegetation management and maintenance management.

"Phase Two provided a unique opportunity for the participants to explore the key drivers of reliability in more detail," said Matthew Olearczyk of EXL Consulting. "These companies are clearly committed to improving reliability and are ready to take the challenging steps necessary to influence those drivers to yield real results."

EPRI and EXL conducted thorough assessments of utility practices to identify the most effective activities and formulate new methods of improving performance. The objective was to provide an independent view of policies and practices as they affect reliability, cost and service quality. The Phase Two assessment reports identify areas for further improvement and make recommendations.

In a series of workshops, participants in the Reliability Initiative were provided opportunities to identify common objectives and share information on industry practices in developing more effective distribution programs for their own businesses.

"The extent to which utility managers have shared their ideas for the common good of providing affordable, reliable power to the nation has been most impressive," noted Robert Donohue, senior vice president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison Company of New York, and chairman of the Reliability Initiative.

EPRI's Distribution Program Knowledge Base now contains detailed descriptions of hundreds of distribution system practices. By using the database, distribution companies learn how other utilities solve reliability problems and can adapt the appropriate practices to improve their own system performance.

For more information, visit www.epri.com.