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Location Standards Emerge as Critical to Utilities' Outage Response

Cut out Fuse

White House announces fast-track industry-led effort to improve information sharing with consumers and first responders

Authors: Dr. John J. Simmins, Technical Executive at the Electric Power Research institute (EPRI) and co-chair OGC Energy & Utilities Domain Working Group, Renee Bogle Hughes, Business Relationship Manager at Consumers Energy and co-chair OGC Energy & Utilities Domain Working Group, and Ron Exler, OGC senior consultant.

The White House with the Energy & Utilities industry announced new steps in its energy strategy in May 2014 at the “Energy Datapalooza”. While most of the media focused on the carbon emissions reductions, one of those steps involves providing consumers, local governments, and first-responders with improved information about power outages.

The White House effort involves both the public and private sectors including several utilities and vendors. The effort has high visibility and is moving at almost the speed of light, with participants communicating frequently. At the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day on July 29, companies showed how their data and technologies could be used to improve disaster response and recovery. According to the White House, Duke Energy, BGE, ComEd, PECO, SDG&E, Southern California Edison, National Grid, and iFactor Consulting have agreed to publish power outage and restoration data openly on Google’s Crisis Map.

A group of electric utilities and technology companies agreed to develop and use a new voluntary open standard for the publishing of power outage and restoration information. Rather than inventing something new, deliverables from these partners will adhere to and/or extend existing standards. The utilities will publish their already-public outage information as structured data in an easy-to-use and common format, in a consistent manner. This open power data sharing will help jumpstart the development of innovative solutions, developed cooperatively by private industry and the public stakeholders, to improve response to power outages.

Location is critical in power outage scenarios because it is the one common attribute that, when applied to data from various sources, can lead to new information for decision-making. Many different types of information are involved but a key factor in outage management is communicating location – of outages, assets, storm paths, and field crews. Information is crucial, especially during times of natural disaster or crisis. Making this data open and available will provide information that can be used by first responders, public health officials, utility operations, businesses and the general public to make critical decisions.

Communicating Power Outage Information to Constituents

The White House initiative helps address the challenge of conveying real-time outage information to stakeholders in various roles and locations. For Energy Delivery Utilities, the development of this standard will make communicating across all customer communications channels about the status of outages and restoration efforts a lower cost and less complex solution to implement and maintain. As reflected in the success of the green button initiative, once a common format is in place, solution providers will be armed with the tools to quickly develop and implement solutions that leverage the availability of this information.

Communicating Field Information

A key part of power outage response involves getting information to and from the workers in the field. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) conducts research to develop new methods of integrating data into workflows such as storm damage assessment. In EPRI’s Field Force Data Visualization (FFDV) project, an integrated data visualization and integration tool has been developed for managing work and maintaining assets in the field. It is applicable for any type of work or asset. All of its key technologies have location-based components:

  • - Location context awareness tailors the user experience based on the worker’s qualifications and the asset with which they are associated.
  • - The Common Information Model (CIM) messagingstandard (an IEC standard) provides two-way communications with multiple sources of information to enable workflows
  • - Augmented reality ties it all together by overlaying the GIS data, measurements, menus, and documentation on an interactive view of the utility distribution or transmission environment.

For outage reporting, FFDV can be instrumental in reporting storm damage, sharing site or asset photos, and servicing assets. EPRI has installed one demonstration project and plans on three more this year. Each successive implementation will add more capability to the platform.

Electrical Utility Standards and Outage Reporting

Several ongoing standards efforts are relevant to outage reporting.

  • - The NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 3.0 – The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) oversees a great amount of work on Smart Grid standards, to help ensure that the mounting investments being made in Smart Grid technologies will be cost-effective. The 3.0 framework, published in October 2014, speaks to common standards as they relate to the stakeholder groups including utilities and suppliers, testing labs and certification organizations, academia, and regulators.
    • - Semantic standards such as the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Common Information Model (CIM) and MultiSpeak, a collaboration of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Both semantic standards provide a Unified Modeling Language (UML) model of the grid and a framework for creating standard messaging between back office systems.
    • - American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). ASHRAE SCP201P is a building/facility information model standard focused on loads.
    • - The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (PAP-21) is focused on bi-directional exchange of weather information in the Smart Grid. One of the standards PAP-21 is reviewing is the Weather Information Exchange Model (WXXM) standard for the creation, publishing, discovery, access, sharing, analysis, and use of weather information. WXXM was developed by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) with support from the international community.
    • - Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Energy & Utilities Domain Working Group (E&U DWG) was chartered in 2012 to begin looking at geospatial standards related to the Smart Grid. The group’s mandate is to look at individual use cases, introduce these into the scenarios of testbeds, pilot projects and interoperability experiments, and work with the OGC Technical Committee and with other standards organizations to resolve geospatial interoperability issues. One of OGC’s standards is Geography Markup Language (GML), an XML grammar for expressing geographical features. GML is a key element in the WMO's WXXM and in many other Internet and Web standards.

Figure 1: NIST Smart Grid Framework Conceptual Model

“In the absence of standards, there is a risk that the diverse smart grid technologies will become prematurely obsolete or, worse, be implemented without adequate security measures. Lack of standards may also impede future innovation and the realization of promising applications ... Standards adopted or developed in support of this transition must also fully reckon with the need for backward compatibility with deployed technologies. Moreover, standards enable economies of scale and scope that help to create competitive markets in which vendors compete on the basis of a combination of price and quality.” NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 3.0


The White House initiative focuses attention on the specific challenges involved in communicating power outage information, especially for disaster response situations. Members of the electric utility industry are working aggressively with vendors, researchers, governments, and standards organizations for this and other technologies such as Field Force Data Visualization to ensure improvements in storm response. Knowing asset location is critical to outage reporting and recovery efforts and therefore the interoperability of the systems involved relies on standards that include location.


Renee Bogle Hughes is Business Relationship Manager at Consumers Energy. She helped initiate the OGC Energy & Utilities Domain Working Group, which she co-chairs. Renee is an industry expert with over 25 years of experience identifying the strategic opportunities brought on by paradigm shifts in market design, stakeholders, technologies, business processes, Smart Grid, regulation and environmental developments.

Dr. John J. Simmins is a Technical Executive at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) where he manages the Information and Communication Technology for Distribution project set. His current responsibilities focus on bringing thought leadership in the area of integrating diverse applications such as Advanced Meter Infrastructure, Meter Data Management Systems, Distribution Management Systems, Customer Information Systems, Geospatial Information Systems and Outage Management Systems. Dr. Simmins also leads the EPRI efforts in the use of augmented reality, social media, data analytics, and visualization to improve outage restoration efforts and improve grid resilience. John co-chairs the OGC Energy & Utilities Domain Working Group.

Ron Exler is a Senior Consultant and Writer with OGC. He provides business research, analysis, writing, and other consulting services focused in the enterprise technology arena.

Ron Exler's picture

Thank Ron for the Post!

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