July 29, 2010
Austin Energy Smart Grid to Get Smarter
Now that it has automated all of its more than 400,000 electric meters with smart meters, Austin Energy is making its grid even smarter.
Austin Energy is purchasing software that will enable the Utility to get signals from the meters indicating when a customer has lost power, when the power has come back on, and to verify that the customer in fact has electricity. The Austin City Council this week approved purchase of the software up to $330,369.
The software will help enhance the efficiency and speed of outage restoration and is one of the first steps toward testing and developing a self-reporting grid that will one day eliminate the need for customers to report power outages by phone as the technology matures.
Currently, just 20 percent of customers report their outage, slowing the identification of the cause of the outage and the speed of restoration. In combination with the software and customer calls, Austin Energy will be able to diagnose an outage quicker and dispatch crews based on the information.
For example, currently if two adjacent residential customers report an outage, the Utility initially may dispatch a crew to investigate a transformer usually behind or in front of one of the customer's homes. But with the new software, if Austin Energy also gets an outage signal from a meter down the street, the cause more than likely is a fuse on a common circuit serving all three customers.
The software will enable the Utility to receive a "last gasp" signal from meters indicating the customer has lost power, a "power up" signal when the power is restored, and also allow Austin Energy to "ping" the meters to double-check that electricity is on. This feature is important because oftentimes customers may be at work or another location and report that their home has lost power when in fact it has already been restored.
The "ping" allows Austin Energy to check the status of the power without having to dispatch a crew – saving the Utility money and increasing the speed of restoration because crews are dispatched more efficiently. A "ping" also enables call center representatives to have up-to-date, accurate information whether power is back on when speaking with customers and enhances their ability to troubleshoot problems. For example, the power may be restored but the customer has to flip the breaker switch to the home back on.
The software is expected to be installed and operational within a year.