How sharing utility grid data can improve local emergency preparedness and response

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We’ve all been witness to increasingly severe weather events and their devastating impact around the globe due to climate change.

Consider, for example, the recent wildfires in California. In 2020, lightning started the August Complex fire, which burned over a million acres – an expanse followed closely by the Dixie fire of 2021, which was started by power lines. The deadliest fire to date was the Camp wildfire of 2018, which caused 85 deaths and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures.

Investigators determined that the fire was “sparked by a tree that fell on electrical distribution lines.” The fire also set a new record: it cost $637.4 million to fight it. Overall, California’s 2018 wildfire season caused nearly $150 billion in economic damage, and it’s predicted that fire seasons will worsen.

What can be done to lessen the duration, devastation, and costs of severe weather events?

My blog series has discussed the value of data and data analytics for helping energy users – such as commercial, industrial, and critical power buildings – optimize sustainability, efficiency, resilience, and safety. But what about the other side of the equation: energy providers? In this post, I’ll describe how utility grid data sharing between electric utilities and the communities they serve can help improve response to local emergencies.

How utility grid data sharing helps emergency services prepare and respond faster

Responding to critical events puts local emergency services like fire departments and police stations under increasing strain due to limited resources. The key to helping emergency services respond faster and minimize potential impacts is to provide them with better information.

Most of this data already exists within the electrical grid. Generation, transmission, and distribution utilities (e.g., municipal, rural co-ops, etc.) have a wealth of information continuously gathered across their networks. This includes monitoring for abnormal conditions, for example, when lines or transformers are overheating. Such overheating could result from an overload, short circuit, or equipment failure. But it could also be the result of a local wildfire.

The utility operations department will be aware of such conditions immediately, often far sooner than local emergency services, i.e., before a homeowner or business makes a 911 call.

To help emergency services become informed faster, many utilities now give local emergency services and government offices visibility to utility grid data. This data access is helping

emergency responders with better situational awareness, coordination, and communication.

Utility grid data sharing is also helping these services prepare to respond to an event much quicker and improve decision-making. A faster response can give them a much better chance of stopping or greatly reducing the impacts of an event like a wildfire.

Overcoming the challenges of collecting and sharing utility grid data

Making utility grid data access possible requires the involvement of many stakeholders, from the electric utilities to local government and emergency services. This raises some challenges that are being answered through innovative solutions.

Technology is available today that enables important utility grid data to be collected across traditionally siloed utility organizations and stored within a unified data platform. All relevant network condition data for a region can be combined and rationalized, which helps flag conditions that could indicate a danger to utility equipment – or the community.

Data must not only be collected and stored, but it also needs to be made accessible. This requires tools that enable visibility across a utility’s enterprise and selectively and securely share utility grid data with non-utility stakeholders like emergency services.

This enhanced visibility helps all stakeholders. The utilities can more efficiently pinpoint outages and locate and move crews as required. Obtaining and integrating utility grid data from disparate systems and applications into a common operational picture helps boost efficiency and accuracy. And as noted above, giving emergency managers a more comprehensive view of what is being affected by a disaster supports better decisions and communication across services personnel.

Ultimately, this new data-driven, collaborative, community-based approach helps ensure the reliability of the grid and the safety of the people and regions they serve.

Supporting greater collaboration with collaborative solutions

Schneider Electric is currently involved in some exciting pilot projects with major utilities. The objective of these projects is to document and measure the extensive benefits of utility grid data sharing with local emergency service organizations.

These solutions are a result of a close collaboration between multiple Schneider Electric businesses and technologies, including the OSIsoft PI System, AVEVA Data Hub, and AVEVA Unified Operations Center. We hope to share some of these success stories in the blog later this year.

SE Ventures, Schneider Electric’s venture fund, has also recently invested in AiDash which will “drive climate resilience for utility assets by enhancing [AiDash] satellite- and AI-powered vertical SaaS products”, including its Disaster and Disruption Management System (DDMS) that forecasts storm and wildfire outages and damages to support fast planning and safe restoration.

In my next post, we’ll look deeper at the requirements, challenges, and solutions for collecting and sharing some of the massive data available from utility systems with non-utility stakeholders. For more information about Schneider Electric grid-level solutions, visit our Power Generation & Smart Grid page.


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