When proponents of smart grid investment tell the average person that, amongst other things, it will make the grid more reliable, the response is usually a shrug, at best. But when blackouts happen, as they have in Texas and various other regions during this tough winter, the prospect of minimizing outage times and increasing communication about the downtime starts to sound pretty darn good.

Enter meter data management. During a recent Greentech Media webinar, “Outage Management That Keeps You Warm and Toasty,” Aaron DeYonker, Director of Product Management at eMeter, discussed the customer and business benefit of being able to quickly access the right data to effectively get power up and running.

“We truly believe all smart grid [investments] should be put through the lens of the customer,” DeYonker said. “It’s not smoke and mirrors we’re trying to put up.”

In fact, the right layer of analytics on top of an outage management system can have very real, tangible benefits for the customer. The first and most obvious is a faster time to resolution. Obviously, the ideal situation is no loss of power at all, but when it happens -- and it sure has happened lately -- filters can be turned on to only pull in data from meters or nodes relevant to the outage area. Utilities can target critical priorities to get those back online faster. And most importantly on the customer end, being able to locate where the power is off means that, like a bank, utilities can send messages to their customers to let them know that they’re aware of the outage and that it’s being worked on. A little proactive effort goes a long way in winning customer’s hearts.

The next set of benefits that DeYonker discussed was mapping both the boundaries and the magnitude of the outage. Having an integrated system that can pull out relevant data means that technicians can run diagnostics on only the circuits within the area impacted by an outage.

If crews need to be sent out, they can be sure they’re sent to where they’re actually needed. And before they leave, diagnostics can be run back in the office to ensure that the electricity is flowing again.

Fewer truck rolls means real savings for utilities, some of which are already using eMeter’s outage system and have been “astounded” by how much money has been saved, according to DeYonker.  

Besides truck rolls, cutting down on frustration -- both for utility employees and customers -- is intangible. With the right data management, call center employees can access relevant data when an angry customer calls. They can tell almost instantaneously whether the outage is affecting a single house or the whole neighborhood. “We’re supporting customer resolution in one phone call,” said DeYonker.

The cost of the systems varies, depending on what sort of outage management system is already in place. This type of data management does not replace an outage management system; instead, it’s meant to act as the intermediary between all of the data coming in and to make the data more actionable for anyone in the utility that needs it.

Every utility is different, and the methods used to implement these systems layers will vary. But DeYonker was insistent that there is so much more that can be accomplished beyond basic MDM -- and so much more that can be explained to customers in terms that matter to them. “I think we’re all good at identifying the business benefits,” he noted, “but we need to look at what’s good for the customer -- because what’s good for the customer is good for business.”