Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. finds the secret to effective outage management lies in information efficiency and speed.
Although power outages are a hectic and stressful part of any utility operation, Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. (MTEMC) is now better equipped to handle any size or scale of outage, thanks to its commitment to cutting-edge technology. Within the last 18 months, MTEMC has made considerable investments in implementing an advanced outage management system (OMS) to provide members more reliable service and a faster response time for restoring power when outages do occur.
For example, in January 2010, unique winter weather conditions hit the MTEMC service area, producing icing — a rare occurrence for utilities in Tennessee. The icing caused erratic outages for more than 5000 members, with the potential for more damage in the days that followed.
If this same incident had occurred a year earlier, several MTEMC staff would have had to report to the control center immediately. In response to the outage, control room operators would have been answering telephone calls from members reporting outages in their area. District supervisors would have been talking on radios, communicating with repair crews trying to locate the cause of the outage. And company executives would have been searching for data and estimates to give to members and media, all of whom would have wanted to know when power would be restored.
But this January, many of these MTEMC staff did not need to report to the control center. Instead, most were able to remain at home and monitor the situation on a laptop and cell phone. In fact, during these ice outages, only the usual two to three employees occupied the MTEMC control room, just as on any routine Saturday afternoon. Without the need for additional help from on-call staff, calls from members were still answered, vital information was collected, outage estimates were calculated, repair crews were dispatched and power was restored to everyone within 18 hours.
So what changed to create such a difference in the way the utility handles outages? On Sept. 1, 2009, MTEMC implemented an advanced OMS, improving the utility's response to emergency outages as well as its day-to-day operations.
The Need for a Change
MTEMC is Tennessee's largest rural electric cooperative and the sixth largest in the United States. The utility supplies power to more than 180,000 businesses and residents in four counties south of Nashville, representing some of the fastest-growing counties in the entire nation. Like many other utilities, MTEMC understands that customers measure a utility by its ability to provide uninterrupted service, and when an outage does occur, the utility is remembered for how quickly it can restore power.
Prior to implementing an OMS system, MTEMC relied on a manual process for handling outages. Although this method worked appropriately for small day-to-day outages affecting a minimal amount of members, the manual way became too overwhelming and laborious for larger outages affecting thousands of members.
As severe weather outages became more frequent and its membership grew, MTEMC realized it was time to change its methods for responding to outages. Its manual methods of identifying, locating and dispatching crews were becoming less efficient and more costly, prompting the utility to invest in more advanced operations technology, including OMS.
Selecting an OMS
Prior to investing in an OMS, MTEMC implemented other automated software solutions, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), advanced weather technology, geospatial information systems (GIS), customer information systems (CIS), interactive voice response (IVR) and automated vehicle locators (AVL). Each of these solutions is extremely useful in day-to-day operations, so it was important the addition of an OMS complemented existing efforts and used the multiple components already in place.
MTEMC had already been working with Telvent, using its ArcFM GIS solution to more efficiently maintain and manage grid information and its advanced weather information services to help plan and prepare for weather-related outages. After evaluating several options, MTEMC decided to implement Telvent's OMS Responder, an automated OMS that identifies the likely cause of an outage based on input from the IVR, field crews and SCADA.
The true value of an advanced OMS is found in an effective integration of multiple automated solutions. At MTEMC, a combination of IVR, AVL, GIS and OMS has significantly improved the utility's ability to more efficiently handle outage calls from members, identify the likely cause of an outage and dispatch repair crews to restore power.
More Efficient Outage Response
With an automated system in place, the OMS Responder has changed how MTEMC handles not only day-to-day outages, such as a downed power line or power switching for routine repair projects, but also emergency outages affecting thousands of customers.
The MTEMC control room is staffed by two to three employees per shift, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With the implementation of the OMS and a well-organized emergency-response plan, the control room rarely needs more than routine staff to handle even a large-scale emergency outage. If severe weather begins to move into the area, the control room receives a customized alert from the Telvent weather subscription service. Aware of the potential for severe weather, the control room can notify repair crews, district supervisors and executives of the likelihood of weather-related outages.
If severe weather enters the MTEMC territories, members are advised to call into a customer service line to notify the utility of any outages. With a new system in place, the customer service line is managed by IVR. As members call into the automated telephone line, the system identifies the members' locations by their telephone number and searches the CIS to locate their position on the electrical grid, eliminating the need for control operators to manually listen to every call.
The information is then automatically fed into the OMS, which notifies the control room of the outage, visually identifying each location on the grid. As more members begin to call about outages in their area, the OMS maps each location on a visual display and creates detailed and calculated predictions for the likely locations and causes of the outages. Based on the callers' physical locations, grid information and number of calls received, the OMS can determine whether the outages were caused by a malfunctioning meter, disrupted transformer, fuse, recloser or circuit breaker. The OMS then creates a list of locations repair crews should be dispatched to in order to restore power.
Once a calculated outage prediction is created, control room operators can provide repair crews with the exact location and likely cause of the outage. Knowing the likely cause of an outage allows repair crews to provide better estimates for the time needed to restore power, and knowing the exact locations repairs are needed saves crews time, because they no longer have to manually search service areas for potential causes of an outage.
The automated OMS significantly reduces the amount of time needed to identify, respond and restore power to members when outages occur. With the improved emergency-response plan and advanced OMS, MTEMC is less likely to call other utilities for assistance during large-scale outages, as it now uses its resources more efficiently when power is lost.
Monitoring with Mobility
During power outages, several MTEMC employees need access to different information to handle their assigned responsibilities. District supervisors need to review outage estimates and communicate with repair crews in their districts. Executives need detailed outage information for media relations inquiries. Today, with the updated OMS system in place, MTEMC district supervisors and company executives can monitor outage situations remotely and still have the ability to access the information needed to handle their responsibilities during an outage.
Telvent OMS Responder allows multiple workers, including 15 MTEMC supervisors, to access the system at the same time and retrieve outage information through the Internet. By accessing the OMS system from home computers, district supervisors can monitor the outages on the grid and view the location of repair crews in their districts without physically being in the control room. Similarly, executives can remotely access the OMS incident reports to communicate vital information to media and members, detailing the number outages, time and date of outages in various parts of the MTEMC territory, number of members affected and estimated time for restoration for members in various territory districts.
With less physical activity occurring in the control room, operators can more effectively focus on the tasks at hand and efficiently manage the work needed to restore power as quickly as possible.
Providing Guidance and Counsel
Having integrated its OMS system less than one year ago, MTEMC is already being viewed as a leader in its region for responding to outages. In the months that followed its OMS implementation, MTEMC has hosted several smaller utilities, allowing them to visit and tour its control center to review the OMS plans. In May 2010, MTEMC also used its OMS to model emergency outages for a series of learning and training exercises.
Since implementing its OMS system, MTEMC understands the secret to effective outage management is the speed of information. With an advanced automated OMS, the utility was able to more than double its efficiency in responding to outages. By implementing more-effective technology designed to streamline the necessary information, MTEMC considers itself a better utility, providing improved service to each of its members.
Diane Summar (email@example.com) is the control center supervisor and a 12-year veteran with Middle Tennessee Electric Corp. In this position, she manages the outage and restoration efforts at the electric cooperative.
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