A Picture is Worth a Thousand Data Points

Optimizing Your FLISR Investment Through Visualization

By Scott Grafelman, BRIDGE Energy Group

FIGURE 1: Minority Report

Fault location, isolation and service restoration (FLISR) is quickly becoming one of the hottest advanced distribution automation applications being implemented by electric utilities. This is understandable since minimizing the duration and frequency of power outages for their customers pays dividends related to costs and customer satisfaction. FLISR is not, however, a “set it and forget it” technology. It requires monitoring and maintenance to ensure the technology will operate as designed during an outage event and provide the reliability benefits the utility is seeking. If FLISR does not operate properly during an outage event, it becomes a lost opportunity for reliability improvement as well as a loss on the utility’s investment.

Some of the related challenges include the following:

“- As new technologies such as FLISR are implemented, they often become just another stand-alone system that operators, technicians, engineers and management teams must contend with when monitoring, maintaining and reporting on the distribution system

“- FLISR status may be viewable only from the vendor’s GUI software

“- Maintenance tickets may exist in another work management system such as SAP

“- Distribution automation communications monitoring systems are not easily accessible because they are “housed” somewhere else

With information in multiple locations and a number of different work groups involved in monitoring, maintaining and reporting on FLISR, it’s easy to see the challenges of operating and maintaining these systems in an optimal manner, especially when you consider the extra resources that are consumed on non-value added activities.

A central dashboard can help. Perhaps you saw the 2002 movie “Minority Report”? Figure 1 shows a person standing in front of a giant multi-touch screen. He can “swoosh” displays around that provide him with all the information he needs to arrest a person before that person even commits a crime. It is the ultimate means of being proactive. This might have seemed far-fetched in 2002, but not today. This is the future of which every utility operations person dreams-having all the information needed in front of him or her- easily accessible, allowing operations personnel to identify and resolve problems before they occur. It is a place where users can visualize the current “health” of their FLISR systems, and query information to identify, prioritize and respond to problem areas and equipment needs faster.

Consider the Minority Report influence on FLISR and critical health information displays, as well as how this type of visualization can help optimize your investment. Here are some possibilities.

The Metrics

“- FLISR Availability: How often are all the FLISR schemes “on-line” and fully functional? Can they be expected to operate as intended should an outage occur on a circuit in the FLISR scheme? The answer is predicated on how availability is measured. Typical service level agreements measure availability as the amount of time a system is working at its full functionality during the measured period.

Other availability information on a dashboard may simply be a count of how many FLISR schemes are “on-line” or “off-line” at any given time. It is a near real time view of the status of the FLSIR scheme, as the dashboard refreshes its views this number may change. Dates for when a scheme was off-line, how long it’s been off-line or the cause of the scheme being off-line also are potential pieces of information that could be displayed.

“- FLISR Performance: Did the available FLISR schemes operate as expected when an outage occurred? For example, if there were five outages on five different available FLISR circuits in a given time frame and four operated as designed by isolating the fault and minimizing the outage duration and number of impacted customers, then performance would be 80 percent. Additional details about an event, such as the impact on reliability metrics and the reason a scheme did not operate correctly or the number of customers who avoided an outage, could also be displayed if that information is available.

FIGURE 2: Electric Prices Table and Heat Map

“- Maintenance Status: The life-blood of many distribution automation technologies that enables them to work properly is based on good batteries and a communications network that is up and running. Work orders for battery and communications issues can be presented in the dashboard that monitors the number of open work orders, time to complete, location of the issues or how long a ticket has been open. Providing more visibility to work orders can help personnel prioritize repairs and complete work orders faster, resulting in improved availability, performance and reliability.

“- Trending: One valuable function of a dashboard is the ability to show metrics’ trending over a specific period of time. Consider these questions:

– Is availability and performance improving or getting worse?

– Are you keeping up with work orders or falling behind?

– Are battery failures increasing?

– Where am I having the most problems?

Trends can be reported by circuit, substation, operating district or any other organizational view desired, if available, to identify areas for additional investigation.

Although not a metric, reporting is streamlined as a result of a dashboard initiative. Without a dashboard, the obligatory reports are typically manual, requiring combing through multiple databases. It can take days if not weeks after the fact to produce these reports. The dashboard improves reporting relevancy with more current data and frees up valuable resources to focus on other more value-added activities.

The Data

Every utility will come up with its own set of dashboard information based on user requirements. A dashboard, however, can display information only if it is available. If the data does not exist, it will not find its way to a dashboard. Consequently, confirming the data exists and evaluating its quality in the source systems are among the early steps in developing a dashboard. If data issues are found, a data cleansing effort might be necessary. Business processes should also be reviewed to ensure that good data will continue to be collected and the dashboard maintains its integrity over time.

The Display

A geospatial view of the data allows information to be communicated quickly and at a glance. For example, the table on the left in Figure 2 shows the electricity prices in Texas at a specific time during a summer month.

The same information is presented in a graphical heat map on the right of Figure 2. The heat map communicates much better the differences in prices across the state better. It highlights variances in the data and draws your eye to different areas of interest.

FLISR information also can be presented in this type of graphical view. With a dashboard, the data can be “sliced and diced” however the user defines it, providing better insight into problem areas on the FLISR system. The dashboard can show the device and the geographical area in which it is located, as well as provide a time stamp.

FIGURE 3: Executive Summary Dashboard Mockup

While this information can be valuable in many ways, one in particular example might be a utility that is preparing for a storm in a specific part of its service territory. Personnel can view the status of the FLISR circuits in that particular area and prioritize repairs to those circuits to minimize the storm’s impact on the utility’s customers.

Figure 3 is a mockup example of what an executive summary dashboard might look like.

A FLISR dashboard can be a valuable tool in a utility’s toolbox, helping it get the most out of its FLISR investment while increasing reliability.

If you decide to pursue a dashboard, a word of caution: Once people see a dashboard’s power and what it can provide, they will want to see more and more information. A dashboard expansion is easy to scope and cost, therefore, it can be done quickly. It is important to decide upfront, however, if the dashboard is going to be a high-level summary tool for management or a trouble-shooting tool for engineers and operators, or both.


Scott Grafelman is a principal consultant with BRIDGE Energy Group. He has more than 31 years of progressive leadership responsibility in the electric utility industry in the areas of distribution operations and restoration; distribution engineering, long-range planning, automation and asset management; project management; distribution, substation and transmission construction and maintenance; distribution design; customer service; community affairs and energy management.

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