Automating damage assessment could shave up to $400,000 off a stormPosted for ARCOS LLC
- June 8, 2018
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Let’s assume, on average, a full-time equivalent (FTE) during a restoration costs between $2,000 and $3,000 per day, including equipment and lodging. Let’s also assume a utility calls in 1,000 additional FTEs – everyone from linemen to vegetation specialists – to help with restoration. With a manual, open-loop process (meaning damage assessors are marking up paper maps, crews are waiting on material and job packets) the damage assessment takes three days. Automating the assessment process (i.e., getting electronic feeder maps, digitally marking up damaged equipment and submitting electronically) could cut up to two days off the assessment time. Conservatively speaking that’s an improvement of 10 percent, equating to nearly $400,000 cut from a five-day storm.
After Superstorm Sandy hit on October 29, 2012, the length of restoration in and around New York took 12 days to complete according to a NERC report from January 2014. Most utilities restored power to 95 percent of their customers between November 1, 2012, and November 9, 2012. But NERC noted that utility “management faced challenges in effectively utilizing resources needed to safely restore or maintain power.”
Among the challenges with restoring services after Sandy were the delays that came from assessing the damage with an open-loop approach. Any storm coordinator knows no two people assess damage the same way. The utilities affected by Superstorm Sandy relied on a manual, damage assessment process with multiple handoffs of maps and information between coordinators, evaluators and crews. There are surely delays interpreting handwritten assessments, especially when non-engineers sent to the field can’t distinguish between a transformer and a recloser.
Even today most utilities still rely on an open-loop (i.e., manual or semi-manual) damage assessment process. But the assessment process doesn’t have to mean missing information, requests for clarification and the search for broken equipment.
Utilities automate DA
Utilities like Alabama Power are now deploying automated damage assessment systems, both mobile and web-based applications, to reduce costs and compress restoration time. Systems like the ones in place at Alabama Power take advantage of things like GIS data and close the loop between an OMS, WMS and existing assessment procedures. Storm coordinators can automatically assign users to a feeder and push assignments to their mobile device of choice; others assigned to the same circuit get the same feeder maps.
According to a May 3, 2018, report from the South Florida Business Journal, Florida Power & Light Company relied on a mobile damage assessment system for a hurricane season drill that puts “damage assessment information and restoration activity directly in the hands of FPL restoration specialists.” This tool, says FPL, is the same one the utility used last year during Hurricane Irma to process thousands of damage assessment reports and complete its assessments in record time.
In reference to Irma, a story in The New York Times last September quoted Mark McGranaghan, vice president of distribution and energy utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute, as saying, “If we could get the damage assessment process down from several days to a day, that would be a big step forward.”
That would also close the loop on unnecessary costs and overly long restorations.