Co-ops across the country are using a powerful tool to
aid in power restoration and keep you informed during major weather events:
the outage map.
Outage maps are just what they sound like: a graphical
representation of an outage displayed on a map of your electric co-opís
service area. The typical map will show where the outage is occurring and,
depending upon the systemís capability, include information such as the
number of members without power, icons for individual homes without power,
location of crews (or their ETA) and expected time for restoration.
Behind the map is a sophisticated system that provides
the data needed to populate the graphic. I consider this technology to be
part of the smart grid because it does what the smart grid is supposed to
do: improve control, reduce outage length, increase reliability and provide
better information to employees, co-op members and the public.
Maintaining an accurate outage map starts with the
devices on the co-opís lines that can report their status to the
cooperative. These include a growing number of switches and individual
meters. By ďreport their status,Ē I mean they can report if they have been
tripped or if there is power at the meter. This data flows back over the
power lines to a computer at the co-op. There it is analyzed, and the
results are presented to the engineering and operations folks for action.
Letís set up an example. Something causes a fault in
the lines that blows a fuse or trips a circuit breaker. The cause could be a
gust of wind dropping a branch on a line. Or a furry critter deciding the
brush around the transformer looks like dinner. A car hitting a pole.
Regardless of the cause, the power is now out to a number of members.
The piece of equipment nearest the fault signals that
it cannot see anything down the line or that it has tripped. A program now
runs to determine the extent of the outage. It looks at other devices to
determine where the flow of power stops. Once it has completed its detective
work, a map is generated showing the extent of the outage. Of course, co-op
employees can operate the program rather than waiting for the computer.
Because of the power of the information contained in
these maps, co-ops are making them available online. Members can use the map
rather than wait in a telephone queue to speak to a customer service
representative about their power outage. They can check to see if their
power is out, back on or when it is expected to be restored, all with the
click of a button!
People may wonder how they can access the internet if
their power is out. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is via
your smartphone or cell-enabled tablet. Another is to ask a friend or family
member who has power to check for you. Or head to a place with power and
PCs, like a library or internet cafť. The point being, there are many ways
you can access this information during an outage and keep yourself informed
on the status.
Knowledge is power, and when it comes to outages,
knowledge is also a comfort because it can tell you when the lights are
coming back on. With this knowledge, you can take any steps necessary to
protect your family and your property. Outage maps are a great example of
how co-ops work to keep their members informed about their service.
Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues for
the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington,
Virginia-based service arm of the nationís 900-plus consumer-owned,
not-for-profit electric cooperatives.