weather and risk: monitoring yields cost savings, operational efficiencies

Rich Wilson, Meteorlogix

There is a fine balance expected of utilities when it comes to managing weather and risk. By knowing what the weather is going to be like in the next hour, the next week or even the next three months, a utility can take the necessary steps to plan accordingly. There are important reasons for utilities to pay close attention to the weather, ranging from load generation and demand forecasting to internal operation considerations such as meeting customer service expectations, company budgeting decisions and employee scheduling. But, if the ultimate goal for a utility is to maximize profits and minimize costs, taking internal steps to prepare ahead of time for the impact of long- and short-term weather predictions only makes sense.

Today with the help of new and improved satellite technology, NEXRAD radar and Geographical Information System (GIS) technology, utilities can receive the information they need quickly and efficiently.

The resulting weather information can take the form of customized lightning information, long-term weather forecasts for accurate demand forecasting or short-term weather information which helps determine severe weather’s impact on power lines, where repair crews are needed, and how to minimize weather-related system downtime and lost revenue.

Key areas where weather impacts utilities are emergency management, outage management, load forecasting, power marketing, fuel pricing and procurement, substation scheduling, etc. Accurate weather information can serve as a decision support tool for utility managers helping them make efficient and effective business decisions. By monitoring and managing high-impact weather conditions on a short- and long-term basis while continuing to keep a watchful eye on the power supply and demand, a utility has the opportunity to monitor its supply while impacting its bottom line-keeping customers and company shareholders happy.

An example of the cost-savings weather information can offer a utility in managing weather-related electrical power outages and scheduling repair crews. Location-specific weather and weather alerting tools can alert a utility to exactly where severe weather stands to impact their service area and how long the severe weather is expected to last. This helps anticipate when to send out crews to repair downed utility lines or transformers with the end result of restoring power to businesses and customers faster.

It keeps repair crews out of danger areas (avoiding potential medical costs, disability insurance and lawsuits), but also helps the utility pre-position crews anticipate how many people will need to be on-call and determine the amount and scope of the supplies necessary to perform repairs.

As rural areas across the country transform into cities, the resulting expansion requires utilities to upgrade and invest in infrastructure in order to avoid service interruptions. When a utility upgrades its infrastructure based on an increase or decrease in population, the cost of the investment is significant. Taking the time to make sure weather conditions are optimal to protect the work being done and crew members assigned to the job becomes a necessary consideration.

accurate weather information & your utility

A utility can utilize short- and long-term weather forecasting information to watch for developing weather patterns affecting its coverage areas. This weather forecasting information helps the utility anticipate temperature fluctuation, precipitation levels and storm potential so personnel can plan energy loads and budgets accordingly. Being able to accurately depict the timing and depth of something as trivial as a sea breeze is believed to have cost-savings in the tens of millions of dollars for cities in the Northeast U.S.

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As far as short-term weather information, utilities who receive customized weather information a few days before severe weather hits are able to better protect crews working in the field, plan for crew and materials necessary to conduct repairs, enforce employee safety and assess an area’s damage potential. They can work ahead of time to minimize customer weather-related downtime, prevent lost revenue, and improve their Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI).

Access to real-time weather information that is accurate, instantly accessible, easy to interpret and location-specific can bring a utility closer to advancing its bottom line-and ultimately increasing its profitability while keeping its service consistent and its customers happy.

Another area where weather information can prove useful for utility operations is in scheduling maintenance and powering generators. While some generators can be cycled-up in hours, some take days and once they’ve been powered-up they have to remain powered for a certain period of time. Being able to pinpoint timing helps a utility avoid unnecessary expenses that can’t be passed on to customers.

The ease and efficiency of customized weather technology makes it simple for utility managers to only receive the weather information for their specific locations of interest. A utility can plot address locations of their assets-stationary or mobile repair crews, utility poles or other physical properties such as a corporate headquarters location-and pick the types and degree of weather information that they want to be updated on. The utility only receives weather information they care about and only when the weather stands to affect them.

In an effort to “go where you go,” modern weather systems also offer mobile alerting features so a utility can receive up-to-the-minute weather information via cell phone, e-mail, PDA or pagers for immediate notification of severe weather that is expected in its coverage area.

why free internet weather won’t work

Utilities need to recognize the value of receiving industry specific, long- and short-term weather information and make a conscious decision that it’s a wise investment. If a utility is currently relying on weather information from television or Internet sources, it’s probably not seeing the most accurate weather picture possible. Free weather services rely on unrefined computer models which may or may not be time-sensitive or complete in scope. These companies are in business for different reasons and fail to offer the extra step of industry customization or offer consultation. By enlisting the services of a commercial weather services provider a utility can be assured that the forecast and weather information it receives is prepared by skilled meteorologists and climatologists who can provide them with detailed, location-specific information in a format and delivery method that makes the most sense.

Wilson is the director of energy services at Meteorlogix, DTN’s brand of commercial weather services, which delivers industry-specific weather management capabilities for its customers to manage business risks, maximize personal safety and minimize financial loss. Meteorlogix’s more than 1,000 utility clients include Commonwealth Edison, Dominion Energy, NSTAR, New York ISO, Southern Company, Tampa Electric and Wisconsin Electric. Meteorlogix serves more than 20,000 customers with a focus on construction, public safety, transportation, turf, energy and aviation industries. Additional information about Meteorlogix can be found on the Web at www.meteorlogix.com.

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