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The High Community Cost of Cutting Power

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With winds gusting up to 88 mph, Thursday’s ‘Bomb Cyclone’ left approximately 462,000 households without power in Northeast. Yes, that’s a lot of households, but the economic costs to local communities is extreme. The Bomb Cyclone is estimated to have an economic cost of approximately $720M per day.

As dry, strong winds picked up and blew across Northern California, PG&E decided to take their largest preventative measure against wildfires ever – they cut power to nearly 800,000 residences and businesses. A good number of California’s population was affected – with large parts of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and other major cities north of San Francisco darkened.

The community cost of the shut-off is estimated to be as high as $2.5 billion. Doing the math, that translates to over $1,560 per customer meter per day – multiply that by the 800,000 meters impacted, and that’s a staggering $1.2 billion dollars PER DAY. 

What became immediately clear to us was the staggering community cost of the shutdown and bomb cyclone – which can translate to all outages regardless if you’re in California, the Northeast or anywhere. The community cost of not being able to conduct normal business – whether that’s someone working from home, or a restaurant, or a large manufacturer – is far greater than the inconvenience. 

The faster utilities can restore service, the quicker they can alleviate the rising cost to the community. That’s where ARCOS comes in. 

When ARCOS is deployed for resource management, the time it takes to restore power is shortened which reduces the costly toll an outage can cause to a community. From calling up an ICS structure, to using Callout to man crews, to managing crews and getting them on a scene, ARCOS’ full situational awareness can efficiently manage an event for faster restoration and in turn, a community can find its way back to normalcy without incurring any more expense from their own pockets. 

We know more wildfires are coming. 30% of the pine trees in Northern California are dead because of a bark beetle infestation. That’s a lot of fuel to burn. We know more weather events are coming too. By responding and restoring services just 1 day sooner, proactive utilities like PG&E and others can help reduce the community cost of outages. ARCOS is proud to provide the solutions that can help electric, gas and water utilities restore service faster and reduce the impact on local economies. 

A Brief Look at Rosters and Rostering

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All utilities use rosters – and they come in many types for different reasons. One of the most important is for the exchange of crew information during a storm or emergency

The main divergent in rosters is formatting, and the device of record used. Some utilities use the common roster, a roster that was developed to standardize the process. Others use a roster of their own design that was created over time. Contractors developed rosters that were focused on their business practices and fast payment. And while some utilities digitize and streamline their roster efficiency with ARCOS, others still rely on whiteboards, spreadsheets and paper. 

When considering a roster for the exchange of personnel information, comparing the variances between roster systems is a valuable exercise and can help evaluate how mutual assistance will be rolled out in any type of situation a utility can encounter.

History of the Common Roster

The escalation of weather-related emergency response situations like Hurricane Katrina placed utilities in a state of confusion. Although rosters had been in use by utilities and contract companies for years, each had their own roster template which made launching mutual aid complicated and restricted communication between organizations. This made full situational awareness almost impossible to achieve. ARCOS automation aided response time but the efficient filling and dispatch of restoration crews started to become a logistical nightmare. Utilities knew they needed a rostering change to ensure the safety of their lineman and contractors and increase the exchange of information so restoration times could be reduced.

In 2015, the Southeast Electric Exchange formed a subcommittee to address the problem. Representatives from over 10 individual utilities were put to the task of defining a common roster that all member utilities could adopt. The common roster had to be simple and in a standardized format that could cover the SEE’s required mutual assistance resource information data.  

The process was to be intuitive-

  •       IOUs and contractors fill out the information in the standard template and send it along to other IOUs when mutual assist is required.
  •       Each IOU would create and maintain a translation program to reassemble resource information into their format.
  •       Resource information would then be automatically loaded into the IOU’s particular system.

The SEE subcommittee’s initiative was successful and they were able to socialize the common format with other RMAGs and secure acceptance among member utilities. While common rosters are proving to be a good alternative to the way things have always been done, they aren’t the whole answer.

Internal Rostering

While the common roster has its place, many utilities use their own homemade internal rosters. What has been tried, tested and deemed true is something they just don’t want to get away from – and who can blame them when a Hurricane like Florence slammed into the east coast? What works, works. However in this kind of system; integration of rosters from one individual organization into another can still be a problem, especially when the mutual assistance call goes out to a neighboring utility or contractor group who has their own way of doing things. If each partner is using a completely different roster system – common, homegrown or something else, restoration efforts can suffer. Mix in a reliance on spreadsheets, whiteboards and paper and a utility can only operate so far without starting to make mistakes, duplicating efforts, or losing vital situational information. 

When you are in the pressure of a restoration, you have to be nimble enough to adapt and adopt to the real-world scenario of accepting a non-standard roster to get crews out.    

So, which Roster is Best?

If you are an innovative utility, the choosing of a roster type is not an easy one to make. Staying flexible is key. Keeping what you have is a great option but when the template of a common roster that can be easily translated and transferred to anyone in your restoration or daily operation group is used, it can be a tough thing to argue against.

ARCOS says, “why waste time arguing”?

Our solutions work with any format of roster and we can even mix the two discussed above. ARCOS Resource Assist can bridge the gap between utilities and contractors so you can have instant clarity on which resources are available. It also delivers seamless integration with the ARCOS platform so every aspect of your responses can be managed in the same way effectively reducing the amount of manual work and data re-entry experienced in your current processes. Utilities can cut response time, speed up restoration and increase efficiency when requesting outside resources.

Find out more and request a demo or learn more about our latest innovations here.

The Sunday Read – Hiring, Retention and the Question of Long-Term Employment

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It’s happening – an ever-shallow pool of employee prospects is shrinking even more. And what’s the butter on top of the bread is that long-time employees are being offered recruiting incentives to leave their current jobs to work elsewhere. It’s leaving HR scratching their heads wondering what to do.

The Business Collective gives a few tips on how to curb employee turnover like recognizing employee contributions, but is that enough? Should retention bonus that are normally offered to executives, managers and key staff be offered to all (Forbes has a few ideas on how to do it right)? You can give out more PTO time, but who will be working when the other workers are out? There’s already a lack of qualified skilled help.

Some would argue it really begins during the hiring process. It’s about finding the right people that fit the company culture and have the desire and drive to invest in the long term of both themselves and the organization. Studies have pointed out that on average, it costs 6 to 9 months of the salary of the job in question to replace the exiting employee. If the right people are in the right jobs, companies can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in re-training costs, lost productivity, the loss of in-house knowledge and the rebuilding of customer relationships.

Shift management can also hold a key. What if an employee could self-manage their shifts from a mobile device or a manager had a full work calendar visible at a click and could make requests for PTO or shift swaps happen instantaneously? If an employee feels empowered, they are more likely to stay. ARCOS solutions provide just that.

The bottom line is your organization must do something and something quickly. The employee of tomorrow won’t be around if you don’t have them or keep them today. Finding a way to invest in the worker and have them invest in your company is the first step toward a long history of employment, and never having to worry about retention or hiring ever again. 

The Utility Use Case for Electric Vehicles

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The Tesla electric pickup truck will make its debut soon (Elon Musk says the unveiling could be in November). If it lives up to the hype, the pickup reportedly could be more powerful than a Dodge Ram or Ford F-150 and able to provide enough energy to run any and all tools on a job site. With a price point of under $49,000 and the ability to drive 400-500 miles between charges, is the future here for utilities to replace aging, inefficient fleet vehicles with the pickup of tomorrow? Ford and GM must think so because they are rushing electric pickup alternatives to dealers now so as not to lose top market share to Telsa’s upstart push through.

The truth is that sustainability has been on the mind of utilities for years. Most meter reader and everyday utility owned vehicles are already a fuel-efficient or electric vehicle make and model. As the tech has arrived, utilities found themselves as first adopters of the electric vehicle (EV). Why? Utilities have a keen interest in how these vehicles operate and what kind of energy load they are drawing and when from the current existing electric infrastructure. Utilities need to know firsthand the impact EV will have on the grid before it’s integrated into the everyday lives of customers so problems will not unravel eco-friendly benefits or cause power issues.

Transportation experts say that in 10 to 15 years, 40% of all vehicles on the road will be EV. That’s a significant number – and a large amount of new power users that weren’t there before. Consumption is going to rise. The demand will be greater by creating more peaks and at different times. Traditionally, peak times are higher during the day, but with everyone plugging in after driving home, utilities will see evening use increase and will have to compensate.

And questions are already being asked about transformers and conductors. Will they be big enough to handle the load? Where will the highest concentration of EV vehicles be?  Will the transformers and conductors in those areas that see an increase in EV use need to be upgraded to accommodate increased demand?

Utilities are looking ahead. They already have equipment tracking with ARCOS which gives a full situational awareness of sustainability. By knowing who is where and closest to what needs to be done, travel and fuel costs can be efficiently mitigated and managed.  Through the use of smart meters, AI and the EV vehicles themselves, the instant management of peak loads isn’t too far behind – and the days are coming when even large industrial line trucks will be EV and navigate themselves to any trouble spot without a driver. 

Innovation is something you must prepare for, and utilities are preparing themselves well by using and investigating in the latest technology tools and software available. 

The Sunday Read: Fossil Fuels and Aging Infrastructure

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South Africa’s economy could collapse thanks to the high cost of coal. Most plants in Azania are coal powered and have an aging infrastructure. Nuclear, natural gas, renewables and hydroelectric power are also used to produce the nation’s need for 40,000 megawatts of electricity, but even combined, they could not keep up with demand if the coal-fired plants are taken off-line.

In contrast, Natural Gas is largest source of America’s power producing plants. 35% of electricity is generated by the native vapor. And while 27% of America’s power comes from coal, 38% comes from nuclear, renewables and other sources. Even if coal was taken out of the equation, the power generated by natural gas and nuclear could theoretically be ramped up to satisfy demand.

What should South Africa do? Many of the coal-fired power stations are built right next to coal mines. The coal arrives to the power stations on overland conveyor belts. Could this kind of coal production be up-scaled since it saves time and money? External sources of coal are also transported to the power stations via rail and trucking but at a significant price.

More attention should have been paid to the South African electric producing infrastructure. It’s a lesson for us all- fossil fuels are limited, and the price can fluctuate dramatically. What ways can we arrive at sustainability and still provide future power? Using the ARCOS suite to help manage work and work resources is a start, but these large-scale questions still need investigation and answers before tomorrow grows dark.

The Sunday Read: Smart Devices a National Security Risk?

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The Sunday Read once again focuses on cyber security.

According to GCN, Princeton researchers have developed algorithms that would help the electric grid quickly recover from overloads induced by attacks on high-wattage smart devices such as air conditioners.

Who would have thought that an air conditioner could take out a portion of America’s power?

What other devices in the internet-of-things haven’t we thought of? Are utilities prepared for any form of cyber-attack? Is redundancy and snippets of code enough to protect our vital critical infrastructure?

The Sunday Read: Paradise Lost

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When the wildfires ripped through Paradise, California, 86 people were dead and the town was left in shambles.

Many lessons were learned.

This article from Energy Central is a good one to share as it gives the whole view of what happened, when, and how we can plan for future fires.

If you are looking for ways to be compliant with California’s new wildfire mitigation legislation, contact us. 

We should never let this happen again.

The Sunday Read: The High Cost of Airline Strikes

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Strikes are not unknown in the airline industry. British Airways troubles last week are just an example.

Does it really have to be this way? Over 1,700 cancelled flights? Flight perks removed for pilots for 3 years?

ARCOS Ascend and RosterApps can help by automating labor rules and empowering employees to perform their own shift management. It’s one step that can bridge the gap between unions and carriers by keeping grievances to a minimum and the yoke of labor agreements stable.

We hope the negotiation table stays open and a resolution found soon. It’s costing everyone including the customers.

The Sunday Read: A Thanks for Hurricane Mutual Assistance

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ARCOS loves it when a plan comes together but we love it even more when utilities unite under a common cause.

There is no group who is more giving and willing to go the extra mile than today’s linemen and women. We see it time and time again when a hurricane blows into America’s coast. They put their lives and families on hold to help other families and communities in need, often hundreds of miles away from their own. They risk life and limb to serve others without a concern for overtime or the hazards they are about to face.

There is no other industry who has this dedication to resource sharing and the dispatch of mutual assistance convoys to the weather-stricken places where there are needed most. Business competition and trade secrets are put aside for the common good – and even though capes are not permitted on the job, we can still see them flapping on the backs of these heroes in defiance to the crushing strength of the hurricane wind.

Thank you. Thank you for making your job look easy. Thank you for your long hours, the time spent without your children, and the sacrifices your spouses make. Thank you for making our lives easier through your hard work and incredible diligence to restoration efforts. Thank you for being true first responders and facing the things you see with courage, strength and a commitment to making lives better as soon as possible.

ARCOS is proud to serve this industry and provide solutions that not only turn the power back on faster but make situations safer for the men and women doing the work.

Hurricanes like Dorian don’t stand a chance when we face them together.

Bring it on Mother Nature. We’re ready for you.

 

 

The Sunday Read: In the Face of Disaster, Energy Companies Go Above and Beyond

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The ARCOS Sunday Read has talked before about defining the responsibilities of a utility company to their community. It’s more than restoring power. It’s about restoring lives. And it’s going on right now in Dayton, Oh.

After Memorial Day tornadoes ripped through the city, the Vectren Foundation – part of CenterPoint Energy – awarded Habitat for Humanity of Greater Dayton and Rebuilding Together Dayton $300,000 each toward their disaster recovery efforts. This money is designated for survivors without means to get their homes repaired.

Utilities care about their customers. There’s no doubt about it. ARCOS salutes the Vectren Foundation and CenterPoint Energy for being there for the communities they serve.