We’ve got a lot of news on the smart grid front this week, including some updates on the industry-wide push to enlighten more and more distribution circuits and grid control centers via big data analytics.

Take outage management systems (OMS), the workhorse software and dispatch platforms that help utilities find and repair downed lines, blown transformers and other blackout-causing problems. With this year’s hurricane season approaching, it’s a good time for OMS vendors like Oracle, GE Energy, Intergraph, Schneider Electric and ABB/Ventyx to recollect how well they performed in last year’s Hurricane Sandy -- if they happened to do well.

Oracle is the latest to toot its horn, announcing Wednesday that it landed its third-straight “strong positive” rating from research firm Gartner’s comprehensive (and publicly available) rundown of key OMS vendors. (GE Energy also grabbed a strong positive rating in last month’s report, but Oracle says it’s the only one on the list to maintain the designation for three years running.)

Gartner notes that the industry has already come a long way from the old-school “trouble call management systems” of the past -- essentially, reverse directories that helped dispatchers connect irate customer phone calls to maps of specific addresses, their interconnections to the grid, and the best routes for crews to take to restore power.

Today’s computer-modeled, two-way communicating sensor and control-based OMS systems are a lot more complex. They’re also more tightly integrated into the other utility tools for keeping track of the grid, including advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution management systems (DMS) and other sources of data that can help light up the formerly dark (i.e., unsensored) distribution circuits where most outages occur.

Last year’s storms gave some of the latest AMI/OMS linked systems a chance to prove their mettle. We’ve covered the example of utility Baltimore Gas & Electric, which worked with Oracle and smart meter networking partner Silver Spring Networks to find and restore outages during Hurricane Sandy by turning “last-gasp” alerts from meters into actionable information for crews to respond to.

Geographic information systems (GIS), which tie multiple utility systems and operations into mapping interfaces (and a lot more), are also a big part of the OMS picture. General Electric and Google Maps recently launched a smart grid GIS cooperative offering aimed at distribution grids, and Gartner notes several other industry partnerships, such as Intergraph and Siemens, Oracle and S&C Electric, and CGI and Cooper Power Systems, on the OMS front.

Another big GIS contender is Space-Time Insight, the Fremont, Calif.-based GIS startup that’s working with partners including Florida Power & Light, San Diego Gas & Electric, CalISO and Southern California Edison. Last week, STI announced the completion of its latest project with Sacramento Municipal Utility District, one that provides a good example of the masses of data that smart-grid-enabled utilities have to visualize and coordinate in space and time.

The project, part of SMUD’s Situational Awareness and Visual Intelligence (SAVI) initiative, combines a massive “electronic wall map” from Intergraph, along with a host of PC-based geospatial and visualization tools from STI, to tie together a lot of different utility operations, Michael Greenhalgh, SMUD’s distribution automation technology project manager, said in a Wednesday interview.

That includes a view of the municipal utility’s 630,000 Silver Spring-networked Landis+Gyr smart meters, as well as hundreds of distribution grid devices from S&C Electric and other partners, the utility has rolled out as part of its $307 million, DOE-stimulus-grant-backed smart grid overhaul, he said. SMUD is using that data to monitor transformers for wear and tear, to run conservation voltage reduction (CVR) programs, to align maintenance and operations workflows and for other such tasks, he added.

But the SAVI platform also includes a lot of links from outside the utility, Greenhalgh noted. That includes data links with state and federal firefighting agencies and water districts for coordinating emergency responses to fires and floods -- a critical area of the smart grid that’s under increased scrutiny from federal and state regulators. It also pulls weather data from NOAA and the utility’s fifteen weather stations to do things like turn temperature forecasts into predictions of coming peak power demand, or transform wind-speed readings into dynamic line ratings along tree-lined power corridors.

What about predicting outages before they happen? All of the new power line sensors, smart meters, transformer monitors, substation SCADA systems and other smart grid devices out there represent a rich mine of data for grid analytics, which can in turn be put to use for everything from real-time fault location, isolation and restoration (FLISR) or long-term asset management and grid planning.

Grid giants such as GE, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Alstom and ABB/Ventyx are all promising richer data and deeper analytical insight out of their smart grid assets, and Oracle, SAP, IBM and Microsoft are all working on the same challenge from the IT end. In the meantime, a long list of smaller DA technology providers are providing bits and pieces of the overall smart grid puzzle, as well as tackling the IT challenge of integrating their technology into the broader utility enterprise.

Tollgrade Communications, which makes grid sensors and software in use by utilities including utilities including Duke Energy and Toronto Hydro in North America and Western Power Distribution (WPD) in the U.K., this week announced its intention to step into predictive analytics. The Pittsburgh-based company announced Wednesday that it’s commercializing a set of software tools that “accurately detects and classifies faults that cause outages in real time,” from permanent faults on main feeders to blown fuses on laterals, via the data it draws from its wirelessly networked, inductive-powered sensors.

Tollgrade says that its software is already delivering real-time data in “two very large deployments in North America,” where it’s shown the ability to find and diagnose grid problems in advance of customer calls complaining of an outage -- a valuable tool for harried utility call center operators, as well as repair crews and dispatchers. Of course, it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to make that happen, including the creation of “a library of fault events, outage detection and load planning data” to feed into the system, Tollgrade says.

Tags: abb, alstom, distribution grid, ge, general electric, gis, grid sensors, oracle, outage management, sacramento, siemens, smart grid, smud, space-time insight, tollgrade