Where utilities have deployed those technologies, the benefits start immediately. Before a storm hits, they can use the DMS, which is a collection of applications that monitor and control the increasingly complex distribution network, to simulate the changing load flows on the system that a hurricane or other disaster might cause and plan how to reconfigure the system to continue service to customers. But it is during an actual crisis and all through the restoration process that these technologies really prove their value:

  • The AMI system provides accurate data on failures.

  • The supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system sends system status changes to the OMS.

  • The GIS updates the network model for managers.

  • The DMS identifies a disturbance and its location, isolates the faulted area by opening switches upstream and downstream of the fault, and restores power to all but those on the faulted section of the feeder — all in a minute or two.

In addition, as Gary Rackliffe, ABB's vice president of smart grids for North America, points out, this kind of comprehensive smart grid provides highly valuable “situation awareness” not only for utility managers and crews, but also for government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and various state agencies, the media and the public.

Again, all this is possible only if utilities have an adequate communications infrastructure encompassing an enterprise-level IT system that typically includes backbone fiber communications out to the critical substations; a local area network within the substations; a wireless wide area network for data backhaul and distribution automation (DA); a radio frequency mesh AMI network; and possibly even home area networks (HAN).