The Power of Technology During Outages
Staying up-to-date with emerging technology is one way Wheatland Electric has added value to our membership. Most winter storms in Kansas consist of ice and wind, both of which can wreak havoc on an electrical system. In outage situations, new technology and the implementation of new response techniques has created a more efficient process to communicate to members, and to identify, monitor and repair power outages.
For power outages or downed lines members should always first contact their local office. If after hours, you can contact Wheatland through our outage hotline 1-800-ON-AGAIN (662-4246). To view a real-time outage map, visit weci.net, click the “Outages” tab, and “View Outage Map.” The outage map shows how many meters are down by county and provides members an insight into the outage situation. This tool lets you know what our line crews are up against, and how long it might be to restore power. For more updates in large outage situations, “like” and “follow” Wheatland Electric’s Facebook page (facebook.com/WheatlandElectric).
In order to remotely monitor 32,000-plus meters, Wheatland Electric invested in an automated metering infrastructure (AMI). The meter change out took nearly two years, but by the middle of 2017 the project was completed and the system was operational. AMI meters have provided faster, more efficient outage detection and diagnosis. System operators can ping meters to get a clearer picture of what is happening in the field and deploy crews more efficiently. In many cases the AMI system identifies the outage, a crew is dispatched, and power is restored—all before the member can call-in to report an outage.
In addition to AMI meters, Wheatland has searched for other ways to use technology to create efficiency in power restoration. MARK DINKEL, GIS/OMS manager, said “If roads are impassable due to snow or mud we can use drones to fly the lines to identify the cause of the failure—it is much safer and more efficient than sending someone out in a pickup to try to physically drive the lines.” The high-definition camera, equipped with a 30 times magnification, can easily identify what equipment is needed to fix the problem, the best route to the outage, and precise GPS coordinates for line crews.
In the case of a large-scale outage, dispatch becomes a command and control center. “There are a lot of moving parts when directing crews throughout several counties in our service area,” said RICK KLAUS, director of operations. “We try to work from large to small, with a focus on residential power, until we get down to the last one or two meters and everyone’s power is back up.”
When the source of an outage is identified, dispatch will contact the lineman on call or the area supervisor. All journeyman linemen are now equipped with iPads, so while on the phone with dispatch they can display their maps to see where the outage is occurring, what the AMI system says is the possible cause, and what equipment is on that pole or what might be needed to restore power. After power is restored, linemen can clear out outages from the system so other crews know what has been restored.
Wheatland is in the process of upgrading its substations with Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition technology (SCADA). This will give us insight as to how our substations are running, our load balance and provide us with the opportunity to perform preventive maintenance before there’s a problem. This means fewer unplanned outages and a stronger system in the future.
No matter how sophisticated or robust an electrical system is, you can never eliminate outages altogether. Mother Nature can always find a way to make the lights go out, but how quickly and efficiently power can be restored is something Wheatland has invested heavily in for the benefit of our members. It is a group effort to restore power. The customer service representatives taking calls from members, dispatch monitoring outages and directing line crews, and linemen physically repairing lines and poles—everyone must pull together to ensure power is restored as quickly and safely as possible.