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Effectively Managing Critical Utility Events through the Outage Data Initiative (ODI)

Interoperability, open data, and consumer engagement. We sometimes recall technology buzzwords more readily than a spouse’s birthday. But solutions represented by marketing terminology, must solve a pressing need if they are not to be cast into the dustbins of the modern age. A key pain-point still yearning for tangible change in the rapidly evolving power industry, is the place where an end-user interacts most dramatically with their utility; the world of outage management.

The Outage Data Initiative (ODI), first introduced by the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) in 2014, is a multidisciplinary approach to that very pressing of problems. Four years ago, The OSTP tasked utilities and technology vendors to create a standardized platform for responsive data sharing that would empower the players in the ecosystem. A standardized platform to report power outages so that first responders, utilities and the public can better prepare for and react to these critical events.

ODI Ecosystem Defined

While the duration and frequency of power outages have improved over time in the United States, sizeable gaps remain in how we respond to these grave events. 2015 Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that average electric power service interruptions per customer were around 110 minutes a year without major events and around 200 minutes with major events (weather related) included. Hurricane Harvey and Irma’s devastating impact on the power grid provide the backdrop for a solution that seeks to close that gap. Today the Outage Data Initiative has entered the deployment phase and will likely be coming to a utility near you. While the Green Button Connect Initiative empowers the consumer to understand their own energy use better, ODI known by insiders as the “red button initiative” focuses on more effective outage management. If the initiative could be condensed into one theme, it would be based on open data for the purposes of making more actionable decisions. 

 The ecosystem surrounding this initiative is made up of federal agencies, institutions, utilities and software system vendors. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has taken the lead as the key initiative sponsor and R&D coordinator. In the process of looking at social media sharing with utilities, EPRI identified a particular weak point in how outage data was being reported.  EPRI’s Scott Sternfeld, says that “during Superstorm Sandy (Oct 2012), the outage data reported by utilities, TV and the media was different and there wasn’t a ‘single source of truth’. So we partnered with the OSTP, utilities, and vendors to start the development phase.”  The result has been an outage reporting system based on the International Electrotechnical Commission’s (IEC) Common Information Model (CIM). The model represents how objects are named and how they’re represented. The standard is not a new protocol but one that is “used by many utility vendors. For the vendors that have a presence in the European Union, they are required to be compliant with the IEC standards, which includes ODI under IEC 61968 Part 3,” adds Sternfeld.

In addition to federal agencies and institutes, select software vendors have stepped up to make this initiative a reality. DataCapable, which provides utility operational insights and creators of the UtiliSocial™ platform, has been the technical resource for the initiative. Their involvement has spanned the support and design of ODI’s information technology architecture, authentication and security. DataCapable’s UtiliSocial™ platform is adopting the ODI platform and has made strong headway in helping utilities convert their data into an ODI compliant format. Vendors like Oracle, Kubra, ABB, Siemens, GE, Milsoft, Schneider Electric, CGI, Hexagon and others are key to the implementation process for their experience in building Outage Management Systems (OMS) because they are the source of the underlying outage data at the utility. On the utility side, several utilities supporting the initiative include San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, National Grid, Central Maine Power, New York State Electric & Gas, Rochester Gas & Electric, Florida Power & Light, Exelon (including Commonwealth Edison and Baltimore Gas & Electric), Duke, and CPS among others. But Seattle City Light deserves special mention for officially being the first to adopt the ODI standard. Projects are in the works for additional utility participation in the US, Canada and internationally.

Issues with Current Outages

The more that’s understood about how outage data is managed today, the more pressing the need for a new and more effective approach. When disaster strikes, on the scale of a Hurricane Harvey or even something less severe, there’s no centralized outage map that aggregates and displays outages down to the street level across the country. This is significant when you realize that at its peak, Harvey related outages disabled 10,000 megawatts of electricity generating capacity, transmission and distribution lines according to the EIA. 82 people lost their lives and damage estimates are at $180 billion and counting.

Coordinating a response to such disasters must start with operational awareness that can be turned into actionable data.  State emergency management agencies need a common operating picture with direct access to outage data to expedite the emergency response process. According to Scott Sternfeld, the Federal Government gets outage information from the “screen scraping” of utility pages and at best “can only aggregate 85% of what’s happening nationwide.” Due to the lack of a standard to exchange outage data, many smaller electrical co-ops and municipalities may not even publish their outage data online.

“If you’re trying to identify if your close family member has experienced an outage, you’d need their zip code, and even then you may not be able to get to the residence/street level,” says Sternfeld.

Then there’s communications and messaging during critical events. Messaging not just about where outages have occurred, but more importantly about the status of restoration efforts, including an estimated time of restoration, when available. Targeted messaging for both the public and first responders means quicker response times and better coordination between utilities through mutual aid agreements.

ODI Solutions

The Outage Data Initiative addresses these mission critical areas through key players in the ecosystem. By adopting the common information model (CIM), utilities convert their data into a standardized format and report that data securely to a central location during critical events. Data consistency creates a unified operating picture of outage and restoration efforts, and a standard that can be consumed by emergency management, with consistent reporting to media outlets and the public.

ODI supports two key mediums for outage messaging as laid out by the project team’s vision; one as the public outage message, another for first responders. The public outage message is meant for public consumption and is published on utility websites and mobile apps. The first responder message contains more detailed information, and is intended to help field crews, emergency managers and even foreign crews called in for mutual assistance.   

With the common outage scenario of a powerline on the road, coordination is required between the department of transport and a utility. Or a combined electric and water outage where the restoration of electric power is required for everything else. “If a cell tower site loses power, and the estimated time of restoration is 4 hours versus 48 hours, this information becomes actionable as the carrier makes decisions about which sites they need to send a fuel truck to for the backup generator,” says EPRI’s Sternfeld.  That specificity of information is the difference between where to direct a resource and how to make adjustments on the fly.

Benefits and Implementation

While the benefits of ODI are numerous, the system won’t function without a commitment from utilities and software vendor support. Seattle City Light (also referenced as City Light) was the first adopter of ODI and began work on the initiative as early as 2014. It’s no coincidence that City Light was also the first utility to adopt the Green Button Standard for better consumer access to data. Tradition OT (operational technology) and IT (information technology) lines are blurring as the benefits of open data sharing as a catalyst for various initiatives becomes evident.

“Seattle City Light fosters customer focused innovative solutions. City Light is the first Green Button Download My Data certified utility in the country and the Green Button Initiative (GBI) provides consumers with energy usage information in a standardized and certified format,” says Bahiru G. Egziabiher, Strategic Advisor for Advanced Energy Technologies at Seattle City Light. While working with nationally recognized organizations and government agencies to implement the GBI, City light entertained the idea of how to extrapolate the BGI concept to other utility services.

“In early 2014, Seattle City Light adopted the Outage Data Initiative to provide customers, first responders, emergency management agencies and others with standardized and certified outage data,” says Egziabiher.

EPRI and DataCapable have gone to great lengths with utilities to define the standard and the necessary APIs and authentication. Seattle City Light’s Scott Thomsen, Senior Strategic Advisor in Communications says that the real heavy lifting was in defining the pieces of information that would be needed for ODI and how to package it. Advantages of the solution include “no wholesale changes in software nor is it something you have to go out and buy as a format for OMS systems. It’s about enabling existing OMSs to share information through a common platform.” ODI also provides flexibility in how that data is shared. DataCapable CEO and Co-founder Zac Canders says, “If you compare Green Button and ODI, ODI creates multiple ways for utilities to share a data set – from ESRI’s GIS platform or through APIs.” Both DataCapable and Oracle as a veteran OMS vendor have worked closely with City Light on its ODI journey. Utility outage management systems also happen to be the key entryway to ODI compliance.

"Seattle City Light is running the Oracle Outage Management System - they’ve been running our system for a number of years,” says Brett Doehr, Principal Product Manager at Oracle. “DataCapable was involved with replacing the outage maps on City Light’s website from a previous vendor and worked with our underlying data to populate the maps using the ODI format."

“Oracle has a track record of supporting utility industry standards and participating in the review bodies that come up with standards,” adds Doehr. Oracle backing for the ODI standard pays dividends as an out of the box format that’s efficiently managed both from an implementation perspective and for ongoing maintenance. Doehr predicts that ODI will become so entrenched that it’ll be included in requests for proposals between utilities and OMS vendors. As utilities are already working with standards in key areas like SCADA and AMI integrations, aligning with the Outage Data Initiative is one more step in that progression.

“It’s one more thing that will make life easier in the long run for vendors, utility system integrators, and government agencies,” remarks Brett Doehr.  There are a number of standards out there for data and outage data didn’t really have a standard previously, and this is a gap that is being filled – everyone will really benefit from this.”

Seattle City Light’s embrace of ODI is linked to outage and restoration benefits but also to higher level predictive analytics. “The recovery of a community starts with restoring power,” says City Light’s Thomsen. But what if steps could be taken to predict how to restore power before a storm actually impacts a utility’s service area?

“If you know the storm is approaching, you can see the storm’s impact on other territories outside your area, to understand how it’s affecting other service areas, and adjust your planning for it. The standardized outage data is a trusted source for the full picture of what other utilities are experiencing. Even 30 minutes or an hour before the storm is time saved up-front and gets magnified for better planning and response.”


The Outage Data Initiative continues to pick up steam and has the support of a committed and growing set of utilities, software vendors and organizations. DataCapable’s operational insights platform UtiliSocial™, which supports ODI, will be on display at DistribuTECH 2018 in San Antonio, TX which kicks off January 23. While outages can’t be fully eliminated, the ODI is a great leap forward in mitigating them more effectively.






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