Utility customers are concerned with one thing: Reliable, affordable power.
Maintaining the grid to ensure that constant power delivery means using technology and innovation to help utilities deliver reliability as cost-effectively as possible.
Jeff Postelwait of T&D World shared his senior-editor-level view of the challenges utilities face and the technologies that can answer them with Satellite Superheroes host Scott Mackenzie.
There are going to be bumps in the road, Postelwait explains, but technologies and new approaches will ease the growing pains of change.
To hear their discussion, listen to the podcast now or read on for 3 key takeaways.
Takeaway 1: Who is thinking about their electricity use?
Have you thought about your power use today?
Even if you are in the electricity industry you may not be outside the consumer mindset that says: I want power and I want it now.
“People don’t really think about their electricity until the bill comes due or the power goes out,” says Postelwait.
Exceptions may be those with strong opinions for — or against — renewable energy.
So, in addition to pressure from customers to keep service cheap and support the grid to ensure reliable delivery, today’s utilities are also hard pressed to make room for new forms of renewable power sources.
Times are challenging. However, innovative, and effective solutions are emerging.
Takeaway 2: Utilities are pressured from many angles to deliver kilowatts at low cost via limited power grids.
While corporate and residential customers alike are united in their demands for low cost and reliability, Postelwait explains that they typically don’t recognize the other pressures utilities face — pressures from aging power grids, regulators, and technological progress, are just 3 examples.
Consider the amount of refurbishing, updates, or replacements an aging grid needs, and the added complications if transformers or other supplies must be shipped long distance.
But first utilities must first find funds to do so. And that circles back around to getting regulators to approve higher bills for customers.
Because the public does not typically understand the limits of the power grid, winning their approval for improvements can be difficult.
Plus, the public often sees utilities as hesitating around the potential of rooftop solar. They miss the very real issue utilities face to collect decentralized rooftop-gathered electricity and flow it back to the centralized utility to share where needed. They are trying to make it happen on a system that was designed to do just the opposite, Postelwait explains.
The electric grid also feels more pressure as more electric vehicles get on the road. While they may be answering climate concerns and conveniently charge at home, what happens when growing numbers of customers plug them in at the end of the workday during winter or summer months, when electricity for heating or cooling is most needed?
“It could risk brownouts — all kinds of grid instability power quality problems,” Postelwait says.
Takeaway 3: Bumps ahead in the road, but also benefits.
There are several points of good news for navigating these pressures, however:
- New technologies for managing workers, grid maintenance, and keeping trimming crews organized and precisely assigned are now available to utilities, largely through the capabilities of a satellite and AI solution. “It keeps each individual working for a utility at basically maximum efficiency because you’re not doing a thing that you don’t have to do. It’s good at the management end and it’s good at the at the worker end,” Postelwait says.
- Satellites and AI also give overall vegetation management a boost. Combining this solution with handheld computing allows information gathering that is so granular that the health of individual trees can be tracked.
- Staff at utilities are a collaborative and pragmatic bunch. “They do things like come together at conferences and share information,” says Postelwait. “The engineers who I rely on for my coverage are very interested in problem solving and collaborating.”
- And tough scenarios, like the Texas power crisis that was caused by back-to-back winter storms in 2021, have served to educate the public more about the burdens utilities face, encouraging more public support.