DA`s Not Rocket Science
By Doug Staszesky, S&C Electric Co.
Distribution automation projects are often approached with the trepidation one might expect in planning an expedition to Mars. But, it`s just not rocket science–or at least it doesn`t have to be if the project is approached with some good old common sense and an understanding of the unique aspects of distribution automation.
It seems that all too often, the engineer in us wants to jump to a solution–often before we identify the problem. Rather than working on the how, the first, and most important, step is to decide why a distribution automation program is useful.
The trick is understanding how the technology will add value to a particular utility`s customer relationships. Reliability improvement is the most obvious benefit. Deferment of capital construction projects yields tremendous savings for many utilities. And when applied properly, DA improves personnel productivity–yielding big bottom-line benefits.
In days gone by, it took three pilots to fly an airliner. Now the two required pilots spend most of their time monitoring the ability of the modern jetliner to fly itself–a direct result of airplane instrumentation and automation. A utility company with as much information about the operating status of its distribution system as the airline pilot has of her airplane, can significantly streamline and optimize the operation–saving time and money. Planners better plan reinforcement work, maintenance engineers spend money only when and where needed and the marketing team will offer customers fast and accurate information when trouble occurs on the line. In short, the utility hones its competitive edge to razor sharpness.
After determining the optimum reasons for implementing a distribution automation program, it`s time to start the “nuts and bolts” phase of the project. Step one is to prioritize the goals with overall corporate objectives in mind. This way, everyone involved knows what project targets are expendable when time and money become scarce. Of course, time and money never become scarce–do they?
In the fast-paced, ever-changing world of DA, it is imperative to research current technology by talking with other utilities, suppliers and consultants to see what they have done and what they can offer. Send the project team to a distribution automation conference such as DistribuTECH. Such conferences are the only place they can make the product and service comparisons unique to a trade show–and listen to the diverse knowledge found at a great technical conference dedicated to DA.
A carefully selected DA project team is absolutely essential to success. Members representative of the uniquely large cross-section of skills and departments touched by distribution automation will provide the best and most complete input. The all-important project buy-in across the company is a natural by-product of good team selection. A strong, dynamic leader is essential to solve the inevitable disputes between team members and their respective departments and to constantly sell the project to all stakeholders (and not get too much gray hair in the process). From front-office executives to communications technicians, from marketing execs to engineers, a strong cross-functional team will provide maximum value to the DA project.
Once the goals and the plan are set, the research done and the team assembled, the work of selecting and implementing the key automation functions can begin. Like painting a house, success of the project really lies in the preparation. Project success is virtually guaranteed if care is taken to construct the goals, pick the team and develop an effective plan that all can follow.
No rockets, no science–just good planning and execution with the customer in mind.
Doug Staszesky is S&C Electric Co.`s Product Marketing manager. He oversees marketing, customer service and custom design of S&C`s automated switching devices. He has held several other positions during his seventeen years in the utility industry, including S&C Territory Manager in lower New York and various field engineering positions at Public Service Electric & Gas Company of New Jersey. He was responsible for distribution system planning and design, as well as handling customer complaints. Staszesky is the Chairman of the Edison Electrical Institute Distribution Automation Group and retains memberships in the IEEE Power Engineering Society and the IEEE Distribution Automation subcommittee. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.