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Zombies zap the grid

 

The Energy Central Broadcasting System and its affiliated magazine Intelligent Utility present ...

 

Today, we want to show you a new angle on that mass of zombies that have overrun our cities—attacking citizens and squirrels without provocation—specifically on how those masses have impacted that greatest bit of infrastructure, the power grid. 

It’s been surprising resilient, despite being surprisingly attractive to a number of zombies.

“Turns out, old-blooded zombies find the warm sub-station transformers a place of refuge and heat,” warned Branko Terzic, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions. So, early in the attacks, the grid took significant hits.  “Unlike the case of squirrel attacks, which were largely unknown to the general public, the highly visible zombie hordes attacking electric systems reminded citizens of the importance of reliable electricity in their daily lives.”

Indeed, the zombies accomplished what a lot of squirrels could not: Suddenly, we were all worried about power issues with the mass attacks—cuz zombies like to gnaw, of course. And, well, with miles of poles and wires and lots of substations, there are a lot of gnawing options across the grid. True, squirrels used to be are biggest chewing fear in this industry (though we kept that under wraps), but now those days are long gone. 

Still, the minor power fluctuations that happened in the first few days of the zombie overrun have pretty much evened out. Blackouts and brownouts are being curbed. And, it seems, that the smart grid and advances in more intelligent infrastructure may have saved the day—though there are still a few adjustments to be made to counter the ongoing zombie issues.

You’ll still have lights on if you live in the Duke Energy region. We spoke to Raiford Smith, director of smart grid emerging technology about how the utility is dealing with the attacks using smart grid technology and planning strategies. Most of Duke’s detailed blueprints are proprietary, but what we can say is: They’re on it, and they’ve got a plan in place that seems to be working.

It seems that Duke has learned a few things about dealing the dead—though sometimes the hard way.

 “The emerging threat of zombies has us fine-tuning our technology every day to deter them from chewing on wires, creating high-impedance faults or eating the brains of our employees,” Smith said. “At first, we sent junior engineers to deal with the problem, but learned that was just swelling the zombie ranks with kids who could do math.”

Across the Atlantic, London is having similar zombie-created power hurdles to figure out. Our London correspondent, Tim Probert with Millicent Media, has finally sent us an email update from his side of the “zombie zap” issue, as we call it. 

Amazingly, power to most of London has been restored from a new option: microgrids, which can be more easily protected locally and adjusted to suit the wandering hordes.

“With ample organic matter splattered around the city, the survivors fired up a series of interconnected biomass-fuelled generators with sufficient capacity to black-start the 2000 MW Werewolf gas-fired power station in Abbey Road,” Probert wrote. (He promises to send pictures as soon as he can get his camera back from that zombie neighbor of his.)

Leave it to those Londoners to make lemonade from lemons—or biomass power from organic matter, so to speak. We’ll add microgrids and biomass options to our growing lessons learned from the zombie hordes.

And next on the list: Analytics is the enemy of the zombie, at least when it comes to the power industry. As Jack Azagury, Accenture Smart Grid Services global managing director pointed out to us when we ran into him at the zombie-free zone of a recent energy conference. There are still large pockets of power despite the dead masses for a number of reasons, including: people “running solar PV and fuel cells with widespread energy storage at the residential and commercial level, which significantly reduces the magnitude of the impact.”

And, analytics have played a huge role in both keeping the power on and predicting where the zombie hordes will attack next (based on structured and unstructured data analytics).

Azagury added, “Analytics and distribution automation allow for automated rerouting of power and restoration which keeps the zombies on their toes trying to bring the grid down.”

Mike Smith of the Utility Analytics Institute agreed with Azagury that analytics, especially, has helped curb the damage from the overrunning zombie insanity.

“Analytics has helped us prepare for the zombie hordes in two way. First, with the level of intelligence we now have with the grid delivering data from smart meters and intelligent devices, we have been able to accurately model for many contingencies, zombie hordes being just one. We are now able anticipate system problems via this predictive modeling and apply near real-time FDIR (fault detection, isolation, and restoration),” Smith said. “Second, with our historic data covering energy usage, payment histories, demographics (human and zombie), and migration patterns (zombies only) we have been able to model both customer and zombie behavior, enabling better response times for crews and communications with our customer via multiple channels, also in near real-time.”

 In fact, Smith has hit upon an interesting positive to come out of the zombie uprising, although it may be controversial: Every newly dead represents a potential new customer for utilities. Granted, mobile apps and other living customer payment options may be a bit too much for a zombie coming in from a long day of shambling and snacking. But, even zombies like a warm, well-lighted space from which to slowly shamble (and to which return)—as Deloitte’s Terzic pointed out earlier.

Steve Esser with Gulf Power Corporate Communications, calls zombies a “rapidly expanding demographic” and notes that Gulf Power is shifting from a fight against zombie hordes to listening to zombie customer needs, creating focus groups on zombie satisfaction, studying products and programs. 

"After all, there will be zombie customers who need reliable and affordable electricity … in addition to human brains and entrails,” he said, carefully pointing out that Gulf Power can provide the electricity but the rest (namely, brains and entrails) needs to come from a different zombie-friendly service organization.

And a few local politicians, seeing voting potential if zombies can be trained to use voting machines and haven’t misplaced their old living-person IDs, have also begun to view the zombies in a different light: as potential constituents and, in the end, as simply a type of consumer.

“We’re focused on consuming data, and zombies are focused on consuming brains. Sounds like common ground,” he told us, although he pointedly refused to allow his name to be associated with that controversial statement in print.

Do zombies represent the next level of customer service for utilities? It remains to be seen.

Until then, remember: Get automation and analytics to save your grid, and, above all, don’t send junior engineers to the frontline. This is Kathleen Wolf Davis from Tulsa, Oklahoma, saying “good night and happy Halloween.”

 

Writer’s notes: The opening of this article is homage to Orson Welles “War of the Words,” broadcast over the radio on Oct. 30, 1938 from the Mercury Theatre by the Columbia Broadcasting System. The ending shouts out to “Zombieland,” distributed internationally on Oct. 2, 2009 by Columbia Pictures.

 

Thanks to Laura Wright with Tantalus; Christine Fields and Jack Azagury with Accenture; Steve Esser and John Floyd with Southern Company/Gulf Power; Mike Smith with the Utility Analytics Institute; Tim Probert with U.K.-based Millicent Media; Jon Rucket, Branko Terzic and Bronwyn Wallace with Deloitte Consulting; and, Raiford Smith and Randy Wheeless with Duke Energy. (Yes, they actually sent us those quotes. No, we did not make them up for them.)

 

We realize that grid updates and potential problems can be serious, but please, in the spirit of Halloween, try not to take this article too seriously. It’s all in fun. And, in no way does this article predict or prove that a zombie apocalypse is coming--nor is it good advice to turn to if all of medical science is flipped upside down and zombies do become a real social issue. 

 

This article does, however, confirm that this industry has a wicked sense of humor.

Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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