International Feature: Voltage Complaints

Keith Stafford

Residential customer voltage complaints are time consuming and often expensive to address. Ironically, 50 percent to 90 percent are typically spurious, meaning the voltage to the customer’s premise is within tolerances. GPU Power UK, formerly Midlands Electricity, found that a residential voltage complaint generally required a field technician to visit the customer’s premise. It then took, on average, two weeks or more for the utility to identify the cause of the voltage irregularity and determine a solution. The total cost to GPU Power averaged $40 to $50 per complaint, plus the cost of tied-up manpower and equipment.

GPU Power found a way to reduce the time and money required to solve residential customer voltage complaints by using a small voltage recorder with an integral plug supplied by Osprey Ltd., Belfast, U.K. The utility now can investigate and solve most residential voltage irregularities in a lot less time for a lot less money. Since it began using the Osprey equipment, its overall cost of dealing with a complaint has been reduced by 80 percent to $7 per complaint, and the time taken to resolve 95 percent of complaints has been reduced by 41 percent from 17 days to 10 days.

GPU Power, like most utilities in the United Kingdom, used to deal with customer voltage complaints in the traditional manner. This meant that the utility would receive and log the complaint, telephone the customer and arrange a visit to install monitoring equipment, then visit the customer premise and install the monitoring equipment. Next, the utility representative would return to the office and schedule another visit for one week later, telephone the customer and arrange a visit to recover the monitoring equipment, actually visit the customer premise and remove the equipment, download and analyze the data, complete a report and discuss findings with the customer. If no further action was needed (up to 90 percent of the cases required no further action), the utility representative would close the complaint and, finally, report the findings and solution to management and to the appropriate regulator. This was a cumbersome process that typically took more than two weeks to complete.

Since employing Osprey’s Electrorecorder and Electrosoft products, GPU Power has yielded significant time and manpower savings. The utility has been able to create an operational and strategic advantage in customer service, primarily by cutting the response times required to deal with customer complaints.

The Electrorecorder is a small, self-contained voltage recorder designed to be mailed to residential customers. The recorder simply plugs into a regular outlet, so customers can install the device themselves. The recorder measures the voltage levels-average, maximum and minimum-supplied to a customer’s main sockets, records the dates and times, and stores this data to internal memory for later analysis through Electrosoft, the supplied Windows-based software. The recorder samples the voltage wave 32 times per cycle. It then averages each voltage cycle over the selected period (one second to 15 minutes). During the selected averaging period, it monitors and records the lowest and highest voltage cycle values and stores these along with date and time in memory. It is designed to allow utilities to quickly react to customer voltage complaints and determine if a problem really exists. If so, the utility can then use more sophisticated equipment to fully diagnose the problem.

Now when GPU Power receives a residential customer voltage complaint, it inputs the customer information into Electrosoft and prints the dispatch (mailing) documentation. The recorder is couriered or hand-delivered by GPU Power to the customer, usually on the same day or within one day of customer notification. So, customer complaints are initially addressed quickly, thus increasing customer service.

After one week, the customer returns the recorder to GPU Power via the postal service (postage is paid by GPU Power). In-house experts analyze the recorded voltage data, and usually the problem can be diagnosed and solved quickly. If the complaint cannot be resolved after the initial investigation, it is then followed up with a normal site visit and the use of traditional equipment. GPU Power has found that only 5 percent of the cases require follow-up investigation. With better screening of the initial complaint, however, the utility believes it can further reduce that percentage.

In addition to the time and money that GPU Power saves by using the recorder, there is also a significant advantage to freeing up the technical staff’s time to work on more serious problems. GPU Power also has more equipment available to work on the more challenging problems since it is no longer using its more advanced monitoring equipment at most residential sites.

Keith Stafford founded Osprey Ltd. in October 1994 to manufacture innovative products for the electric power industry. Stafford graduated from Queens University Belfast in July 1987. He spent five years with ICI Engineering before receiving his master of science degree in Electronics in 1993. He can be reached at +44 28 9020 1050 or keith.stafford@ospreyltd.co.uk.

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