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Contractors, tech and education will bridge workforce gap

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Like all skilled trades across the U.S., the electric industry is finding it hard to fill openings with qualified workers. The nature of the jobs for which utilities need workers is changing, too. While there’s clearly a need for O&M personnel and linemen, there’s also a need for newer roles such as data analysts and cybersecurity specialists. Utilities face a threefold challenge:

  • Recruiting for traditional roles, such as line workers, mechanics and pipefitters
  • Broadening the skill set of those traditional roles as evolving information and communication technology (ICT) affects the job site
  • Predicting the kind of workers needed as emerging and renewable technologies take hold

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ARCOS Heroes: A business change creates a bottleneck, then opportunity at PSEG Long Island

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PSEG Truck

By Bill Perry

Jeff Plackis is a staff engineer with PSEG Long Island’s Emergency Planning department in Hicksville, NY. According to its website, PSEG Long Island is a subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated (NYSE:PEG), a publicly traded diversified energy company with annual revenues of $9.1 billion. PSEG Long Island operates the Long Island Power Authority’s electric transmission and distribution system under a 12-year contract. Until last year, PSEG Long Island used the ARCOS Callout Suite as the way to call-out troubleshooters, overhead linemen, underground splicers and substation mechanics for after-hours emergencies. Plackis changed that.  

As PSEG Long Island worked to continually enhance its Emergency Restoration response,  retooling the process of activating employees for their storm roles fell to Plackis. He knew he couldn’t manage the job effectively with his current tools, but he also knew enough about ARCOS to see an opportunity for improvement. Read More

New technologies are a fulcrum for RMAG success

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During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, RMAGs sprang into action to help utility companies and customers. According to the Edison Electric Institute, “More than 10,000 workers were dedicated to the Harvey response and recovery effort, and mutual assistance crews from at least 21 states provided support in Texas and Louisiana.” The RMAG, or regional mutual assistance group, has been around for at least 60 years. The groups give utilities (faced with anything from a regional event to a National Response Event) a mission-critical way to identify, mobilize and manage resources. There are seven RMAGs recognized by EEI across the United States. Each has a leadership team, typically volunteer positions named on a regular cycle.

Without RMAGs, utilities would compete for the same resources, which would delay restoration for customers. Most utility professionals know the RMAGs exist. But the processes and technologies behind the scenes are less known.

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Automating damage assessment could shave up to $400,000 off a storm

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Let’s assume, on average, a full-time equivalent (FTE) during a restoration costs between $2,000 and $3,000 per day, including equipment and lodging. Let’s also assume a utility calls in 1,000 additional FTEs – everyone from linemen to vegetation specialists – to help with restoration. With a manual, open-loop process (meaning damage assessors are marking up paper maps, crews are waiting on material and job packets) the damage assessment takes three days. Automating the assessment process (i.e., getting electronic feeder maps, digitally marking up damaged equipment and submitting electronically) could cut up to two days off the assessment time. Conservatively speaking that’s an improvement of 10 percent, equating to nearly $400,000 cut from a five-day storm.

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Three tips for selling execs on the power of the incident command system

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By Ann Steeves

Emergencies happen every day in the utility industry. Whether a car hits a pole or a water main breaks, utility personnel, law enforcement and emergency medical services often arrive on the scene within moments of one another. The utility person who arrives on the scene and introduces themself as the incident commander and asks to develop joint incident objectives is a step ahead of utilities that don’t speak the common language of first responders. Read More

Co-ops attack SAIDI, boost safety with automated callout

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According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity sales growth among co-ops is surpassing the electric utility industry as a whole. EIA research shows the industry saw a more than one percent decline from 2015 to 2016, whereas co-op sales rose by about .50 percent. That statistic stands out in a report titled “America’s Electric Cooperatives,” which the NRECA posted to its website this spring.

The association’s report also states 84 percent of U.S. electric co-ops had a net increase in members (i.e., 295,995) in 2016, which is the most recent year reported. An uptick in customers, while always good news, can affect a utility’s System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI), which is the total annual duration of outage interruptions per customer. The nature of co-ops means employees regularly go the extra mile to restore power because their customers are neighbors too. When the scale of restoration requires more people than currently available, technology can play a role. Read More

Utility resource management puts employees’ evolving skills in play

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Deploying technology is a smart, safe way to shorten restoration. Here are a few examples. At ComEd, managers simulate different field staffing scenarios, so they can pivot to meet changing conditions and quickly respond with the right crews. At Alabama Power, mobile damage assessment technology eliminates multiple handoffs of maps and notes between storm coordinators, damage evaluators and field crews. Mobile damage assessment gets the right resources to the right place, which trims costs and compresses restoration time.

Efficiency stems from having well-ordered processes. And technology can improve the speed of carrying out good processes.

But take stock of your team’s skills, too. Skills are like static electricity – stored energy, ready to go. The key is turning the static into kinetic energy.

Here’s an example: Utility employees’ storm roles should evolve to take advantage of newly acquired skills such as drone pilot. Imagine managers calling out someone (who normally works as an accountant) to assume his or her storm role as a wire guard. Since the last time the employee was called out in this capacity, the worker happened to earn an FAA remote pilot certificate. That’s a valuable skill that might expedite restoration if the employee were reassigned as, say, a damage assessor. And knowledge of that evolving skill set is something to factor into the real-time demands of the situation. Read More

It takes a ‘village’ to electrify a village

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Jim Nowak’s recent column in Electric Light & Power “No Longer Going it Alone: Outage Restoration Requires Relationship” about forging relationships to improve restoration and response really hit home as I read T&D World’s article “First Responders Join FPL for its Annual Storm Drill.” The T&D World article explains how FPL tested 3,000 employees last month on responding to an event of the same magnitude as Irma. FPL included Florida’s governor, industry leaders and first responders.

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Cyber security and the cloud of protection

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Cyber Security

By Ted Schneider

In June, I’ll attend EEI’s Annual Convention in San Diego where I’m excited to hear Robert Herjavec, founder of information security firm Herjavec Group and Lead Shark on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” talk tech. Security is a passion of mine. The second person I hired for the ARCOS CloudOPs team was a cyber security engineer. A little over a year after joining ARCOS as its CTO, I watched the Ukraine fall victim to a hack of its electric infrastructure.

Since then, the number of discussions about security that we’ve had with clients has grown exponentially. Security requirements are mushrooming. And groups inside utilities dedicated to cyber security are ballooning. Maintaining security is a moving target, though. It’s more than minimizing downtime; security is about giving your organization and technology a multi-tiered buffer zone allowing time to ignore, trap and reject the negative intrusions or loading. Read More

ARCOS Heroes: CU plant saves supervisors hundreds of hours of work, readies for emergencies

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CU Springfield_Frederick Johnson

Pictured is City Utilities of Springfield Maintenance Supervisor Frederick Johnson at his desk inside the John Twitty. Energy Center reviewing an automated work roster in the ARCOS Callout and Scheduling solution.

Willy Haffecke, David Nelson, Frederick Johnson, Tracy Carter, Carol Jordan and Sherri Baxter aren’t widely known beyond City Utilities of Springfield (Missouri). But they’ve saved their utility hundreds of hours of work annually and ensured CU is able to communicate emergencies in seconds, not minutes or hours.

In 2016, Haffecke, the director of Power Generation, and Nelson, an outage planner/scheduler, along with their coworkers implemented the ARCOS® Callout and Scheduling solution at CU’s John Twitty Energy Center, James River Power Station, Noble Hill Landfill Renewable Energy Center and McCartney Generation Station to automate the forecasting, planning and call out of electrical, mechanical and operations personnel. Read More

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