Itron recently released our report on utilities’ current state of disaster preparedness. As many of you have experienced or may already know, disasters seem to be inevitable and are happening with greater frequency. As a community of energy and water providers and suppliers, we have no choice but to prepare for what is coming. While utilities and consumers may feel like the biggest disaster is just around the corner – be it storms or floods, fires or cyber-attacks – the biggest disaster would be failing to prepare.

I found it interesting that when asked about the top barriers to deploying technology, utilities indicated “difficulty prioritizing what to invest in” (33%) and “regulations” (30%). The top investment priorities by utilities to respond to disasters were smart or advanced metering, remote disconnect devices, customer communications systems, outage detection and restoration.

Preparing for and responding to disasters may seem daunting, but thanks to advances in technology, the challenge is not insurmountable. In fact, technology has evolved to the point where it can:

  • Predict potential issues before forecasted disasters arrive
  • Enable greater grid awareness to understand the state of distribution systems
  • Spot and fix issues quickly before they create unsafe conditions—either for communities or utility crews
  • Reduce the need for truck rolls “post storm” to determine pockets of damage

Advanced technology options available to utilities are growing and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications are revolutionizing disaster prediction and response, thereby helping communities increase resiliency and safety during disasters, all while gaining insights that were previously unavailable.

For example, a utility pole sensor can detect if a pole is down, which can lead to safety issues such as a fire. Knowing what poles are down and where is helpful with speeding restoration efforts and can increase response times to those that need attention. Similarly, line sensors can monitor for issues or hazardous situations on the distribution line. Monitoring solutions, such as voltage analysis and distribution transformer monitoring, can evaluate the health of devices on the grid to ensure they aren’t failing, which could create a potential safety issue.

Advanced line sensors in the network can enable utilities to anticipate where problems will develop with visibility into intermittent interference from vegetation, equipment not functioning properly, loose connections or heat buildup in the system. Being able to anticipate or detect where fires might occur, and where damage is detected in the system, allows the utility to de-energize systems and dispatch crews more effectively.

When an earthquake occurs, a natural gas leak can be a likely and dangerous outcome that utilities must be vigilant in monitoring and responding to. With methane detection technologies, a leak can be detected and crews can repair it before it becomes a hazardous situation.

Outage detection helps improve response times with real-time intelligence, allowing utilities to accurately understand the size and extent of an outage and what locations are impacted. This also helps with restoration by validating and continuously updating outage extents.

Smart meters—among one of utilities’ top investment priorities—can aid in natural disaster mitigation. With smart meters, utilities know instantly when the power is out, thanks to built-in intelligence, which can diagnose problems remotely and send an outage alert as soon as it happens.

I think Itron’s report shines a very bright spotlight on the priority of resiliency and the actions and investments that many U.S. utilities have already taken—they will likely pay off with the next flood, storm, wildfire, earthquake or ransomware attack. Infrastructures must be as future-proofed as possible to help alleviate damage from natural disasters and respond as effectively as possible once they hit.

Matthew Smith on Email
Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith has more than 25 years of entrepreneurial experience in the energy, home computer and consumer electronics industries. At Itron, Matthew sets the global business and product strategy for the grid management line-of-business. This involves managing company initiatives to provide networking solutions that enable utility use cases such as FLISR, CVR/IVVC, demand response, distributed energy resource (DER) management and outage management. Prior to Silver Spring Networks Matthew worked at Greenbox Technology, an early leader in customer-facing smart grid applications, where he was head of marketing and sales. Matthew earned his MBA from the Presidio School of Management and his B.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Pittsburgh.

Matt was selected to represent Itron in the ClimateForce Leadership-On-the-Edge program and spent 12 days in the Arctic for the 2019 expedition.