As recent storms have proven, extreme weather conditions threaten lives, disrupt the economy, and devastate electric generation, transmission and distribution systems, often resulting in very long power outages.

No wonder a recent utility industry survey of North American outage management systems (OMS) found that 53 percent of respondents plan to upgrade or replace their existing OMS in the next one to two years. Additional initiatives described as priority projects included smart metering and related infrastructure, automated feeder switching, volt/VAR optimization, supervisory control and data acquisition upgrades, system integration, business intelligence, and predictive analytics.

The Bridge Energy Group, a utility consulting firm, asked more than 14,000 utility employees about their views and experiences in outage management. OMS project initiatives included the consideration of cloud-based solutions, integrating smart meter outage inputs, and integrating OMS with graphic information systems and emergency management systems. These were leading initiatives to upgrade or replace existing OMS systems. As these goals are pursued, the survey further uncovered that the integration of related systems and availability of knowledgeable staff ranked as the two top concerns.

“Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy demonstrate the importance of moving beyond traditional outage management to develop true restoration management capability. Knowing where the outages are isn’t enough to restore power quickly and satisfy stakeholders,” said Forrest Small, vice president of grid optimization strategy at Bridge Energy. “Utilities have to process information from many sources, make good decisions in real time, and communicate clearly and continuously internally and externally. Knowing how to integrate new technologies with existing operational systems and business requirements is critical to strong restoration performance.”

Of the survey respondents, 64 percent indicated restoration management was a top priority. This fact was related to their goal of improving customer service and lowering the cost of outages to utilities that ranged between $1 million and $30 million.