For those of you who work in electric power distribution, you probably can relate to the statement, “Utilities are only as good as their last storm event.” Typically, it is the last major outage event that customers and regulators remember, and they often use it to benchmark their utility’s performance and brand.
The need for a reliable energy supply is foundational to our society. Utilities are excellent planners and responders, always “preparing for the worse and hoping for the best.” They are now confronted with having to develop contingencies to restore power under the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, where people’s movements are restricted and when not all typical services are available.
Storm events are happening more frequently and the need to manage severe weather impacts has been a growing trend in our interviews with utilities executives for the CGI Client Global Insights.
With all of this in mind, utilities’ storm response efforts should never reach a point of complacency: they must get better with each event. Yet, many are still using homegrown spreadsheets and paper processes to manage these activities instead of a centralized application that could provide better visibility of resources and logistics. As a result, the pursuit of emerging technologies, along with improved processes and communication methods—including social media and digital tools—must become an entrenched objective.
Expectations from customers and regulators are high
After a storm, utilities are under significant pressure to react and return infrastructure operations as safely, efficiently and quickly as possible. Despite the pandemic, customer and regulator expectations for storm restoration response will continue to grow.
Coordinating large numbers of internal, external resources and equipment presents ongoing logistical challenges. Service restoration efforts are subject to regulatory compliance, financial audits and scrutiny, and utilities must demonstrate efficiencies in all storm activities to justify their decisions. In addition, regulators expect activities between mutual aid responders to be highly coordinated, which speaks to the advantage of having a single storm management platform.
A common digital platform is key
With the need to address more frequent large-scale storm events, many utilities are pursuing a common digital platform to manage storm activities and processes around resources, logistics and financials, as well as work and situation awareness. An integrated solution provides a seamless user experience and real-time visibility for all stakeholders. It also improves operational efficiencies by enabling better team collaboration and, most importantly, by eliminating those homegrown systems and manual processes. Additionally, it enables needed visibility for continuous improvement and to support after-action reviews and reporting.
Storm management is a perpetual process. Utilities’ recognition of the value of a common digital platform for emergency response should allow them to keep pace with growing expectations: “Because utilities are only as good as their last storm event.”
For many years, CGI has worked with grid operators on effective systems and processes for storm management. We have developed CGI Storm Manager, part of CGI OpenGrid Workforce, as a common platform for managing all of the processes within the storm life cycle.