Enough should never be Enough

Steven Brown, Senior Associate Editor

During the keynote session of the DistribuTECH 2004 Conference, I had the pleasure of recognizing four utility companies for the remarkable projects they have undertaken over the course of the last year. I hope you’ll take some time to read about these Projects of the Year Award winners on pages 8-17 of this issue.

The work that these four companies completed and the investments they made in technologies to improve system reliability exemplify what all utilities should strive toward.

The Orlando Utilities Commission is the perfect example of a utility company that could very easily have sat back and done nothing but the bare minimum to improve its power delivery system or its underlying technologies, satisfied with the fact that the company has been named the most reliable utility in the Southeast for the last two years.

But OUC, its management and its employees weren’t satisfied. They knew they could implement technology–an enterprise GIS in this case–that would improve operations, make field work more efficient and, ultimately, allow the utility to supply even better service to its customers.

The same goes for Kansas City Power & Light. As a result of its automation project, KCP&L now is able to cost-effectively automate, monitor and control remote pieces, of equipment that would not have been considered viable candidates for automation in the past. In so doing, the company also helped develop several pieces of technology that are now available to the entire utility industry.

While other utilities cautiously automate certain segments of their meter populations, PPL Electric Utilities went at it whole-hog, automating 1.3 million meters in its territory. That’s a massive, full-scale deployment, and thus far the utility has been able to complete the implementation ahead of schedule. The work this utility has done, and the benefits it will derive from the work, should serve as the model for other utilities who wish to “think big” when it comes to technology deployments.

PECO Energy delved beneath the surface to update and upgrade its underground distribution system in Philadelphia. In so doing, they provided a sterling example of how an innovative upgrade to an existing system can provide tangible, quantifiable benefits for the utility and its customers.

An important thing to note about each of these projects: None of the award winners had a system on the brink of collapse. None of them were feverishly patching holes to avoid penalty from the PUC. None, to the best of my knowledge, were forced into performing the work they did.

So why do these four utility companies continue to innovate and improve their networks? Why aren’t they satisfied they’ve “done enough” to ensure reliability?

Of course, each company had its own unique reasons for doing the work it did, but I would suggest one reason these utilities refuse to be satisfied is that their customers, the rate payers, are not satisfied–and they never will be.

That’s the funny thing about customers of any company in any industry. They’re never satisfied. Too much is never enough. While your customer would no doubt be impressed to find out you’ve achieved 99.99 percent reliability on your distribution system, he’s still going to be up in arms about the few hours he was without power during the heat of last summer. Your customer is always going to demand improvement–and so should you.

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