12 Nov 2019

Tech aids utility in hurricane restoration

Tech aids utility in hurricane restoration
Credit: Victoria Electric Cooperative
AMI & Smart metering

With the United States a magnet for tropical and subtropical hurricanes and cyclones, it is imperative for utilities to deploy measures that will employ the necessary infrastructure to quickly remedy an otherwise disastrous situation.

In the wake of natural disasters, towns are plunged into darkness, calling for the implementation of innovative technology and solutions to reconnect residents within days of the destruction.

Victoria Electric Cooperative (VEC) is an electric cooperative that has served residential and commercial members throughout Southeast Texas for the past 80 years. In 2017, the town experienced the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 hurricane and one of the strongest storms to ever hit Texas. Prior to Harvey, the last major storm to affect the VEC territory was Hurricane Claudette in 2003. While Claudette’s impact was mild compared to Harvey’s, it allowed VEC to recognise the need for an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to help with the restoration efforts of future storms.

Through their use of Trilliant’s SecureMeshi Neighborhood Area Network (NAN), SecureMesh Wide Area Network (WAN), and trademarked UnitySuiteii platform, VEC was able to restore power to 95% of members within ten days of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall. Little did VEC know that this foresight to move toward a digital-first management system would serve them in the years to come better than they could have imagined.

Based upon their needs, which included a solution to work across their sprawling rural jurisdiction, VEC partnered with Trilliant to deploy a full-scale AMI solution beginning in 2012. Before the installation of an outage management system (OMS), VEC had relied solely on calls from members regarding outages. This outdated system slowed down response time to outages and didn’t allow VEC to maximise response efforts.

As a solution, they implemented SecureMesh WAN/NAN technology which empowered VEC to remotely read meters, ultimately enhancing their ability to provide safe, efficient, and reliable member service and storm recovery. The cooperative also incorporated innovative solutions into their Emergency Response Plan (ERP), trusting in the solutions’ ability to provide outage and restoration notifications to an OMS and pinpoint outages. When Harvey hit, the ERP utilising this state-of-the-art technology was immediately put into place, ensuring the safety of their employees through precision dispatching, which resulted in faster repairs for customers.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall directly along the Texas Gulf Coast as a category 4 hurricane on 25 August 2017. On that evening, when winds reached 40 mph, VEC announced to its members that, for the safety of their employees, they would no longer be responding to outages. The next morning, Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas, bringing record rainfall and winds that levelled entire blocks, leaving communities in darkness. The storm brought nearly two feet of rain in the first 24 hours, turning streets into flowing rivers.

Across VEC’s territory, strong, 130 mph winds knocked 22,467 meters offline and flooding damaged approximately 142 AMI meters. Nearly all of Victoria Electric’s members were left without an electricity supply. Additionally, staggering amounts of rainfall and rising floodwaters from the area’s rivers prohibited travel. Featuring adaptive mesh technologies, VEC’s wireless network allowed for a real-time exchange of data to the restoration teams after portions of the AMI system were restored.

The SecureMesh platform, developed specifically for AMI applications, served as a secure, multi-tier NAN/ WAN communications platform, allowing VEC to locate outages after the initial energizing of circuits quickly and efficiently.

Pre-engineered to work together seamlessly, featuring high bandwidth and low latency, the platform allowed for speedy communications to the VEC teams. Trilliant’s SecureMesh Narrow Area Network (NAN) solution, a standards-based, high-bandwidth wireless AMI technology built to support coverage of both dense urban and sparse rural areas, helped serve the predominately rural areas in VEC’s territory.

While hurricanes often destroy established communications infrastructure, significantly delaying communications during or after a storm, the SecureMesh Wide Area Network (WAN) provided VEC with high-bandwidth wireless IIoT technology.

Through the UnitySuite platform, VEC was able to manage outages and restoration notifications to see if a meter lost power again after being restored. VEC also turned to social media to transparently communicate their restoration progress, sharing with members exactly how hard its system was affected. The UnitySuite platform showed the meters as they came back online, eliminating the need to check each one manually.

This digitised process helped VEC to appropriately allocate resources where the need was most, which helped to speed up recovery efforts.

Ten days after restoration efforts began, VEC restored power to 95% of their members. By providing the right combination of communications and metering technology, the SecureMesh WAN/NAN and

UnitySuite technologies played a role in empowering VEC’s rapid storm restoration efforts. To aid in getting the power turned back on, Trilliant promptly sent a replacement of meters and equipment power supplies to replace those that had been damaged in the storm. Remarkably, no WAN devices, gateways, extenders or extender bridges were lost from the impact of Harvey.

Despite this system being implemented toward the end of 2017, given the uniqueness of this solution and the latent benefits, it is a technology that is deserving to be recognised and applied where most needed in 2019 and beyond.

“Losing nearly 100% of power, we were impressed that 95% of the membership was able to be restored within ten days,” said Richard Tristan, VEC’s AMI supervisor.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Harvey caused $125 billion in damages, which is more than any other natural disaster in US history except Hurricane Katrina.

The devastation that it caused is insurmountable; however, as a utility having the ability to bring light and power back into otherwise dark and damaged communities is something that is not possible without the support of innovative technology.

i Trilliant’s SecureMesh® Neighborhood Area Network (NAN)

ii UnitySuite® platform

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