By Jeannette M. Mills, VP, Customer Operations & Chief Customer Officer
Yesterday we had another day of good progress making repairs and restoring electric service to customers, enabling us to estimate that the vast majority of the remaining customers without power
will be restored by tomorrow night. Some restorations will extend into the weekend for smaller pockets of customers or where there has been more significant system damage. We’re continuing to work aggressively to get power back to all customers and put this storm behind us.
As we make repairs to our existing grid, we are seeing a glimpse of what is ahead for the future of power grids. This storm has provided an opportunity to see how the smart meters BGE is currently installing will function in storm restoration efforts. About 10 percent of customers now have smart meters, and installations continue across our service territory. With the advanced meters in place, we have been able to test some new capabilities and procedures, including using smart meters to tell us when power restoration efforts were successful.
When we repair damaged electric distribution feeder lines that serve large numbers of customers, we have to confirm whether individual customers served by that feeder actually have their power back. Even with a feeder line operational, there may be more storm damage that needs to be repaired closer to a particular customer’s property. Normally, and in areas without smart meters, this means contacting customers by phone. As you can imagine, in the wake of a major storm many of our calls go unanswered for various reasons. Historically, two-thirds of customers are not able to be reached by calls. If we are unable to determine that power has been restored, we dispatch crews to investigate the status and determine if further repairs are needed.
During Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, as we restored power to feeders that serve customers with smart meters, we have been testing the ability to remotely contact the smart meters to determine if they came back online. What we’ve seen is that the smart meters are functioning as expected – we receive a signal to let us know that power has been restored, and no signal indicates we have some more work to do. Of course, we have a much higher rate of success getting through to smart meters than we do reaching customers by phone. This enables us to dispatch crews more efficiently, allowing them to focus on areas of possible damage instead of going out to locations where power has already been restored.
As it’s still early in our process, more analysis is needed to determine the full impact of smart meters on storm restoration. However, this process improvement, brought to us by a smarter grid, should make our future restoration and customer outreach efforts more efficient as more and more customers are equipped with smart meters.
We look forward to the near future, when smart grid enhancements will provide us with more data on when and where outages are occurring along the grid. Hearing directly from our customers will continue to be valuable to us however, and there are details only you can provide, such as the locations of downed trees and downed wires. We still ask that customers with smart meters call 1.877.778.2222 to let us know when they are experiencing an outage.
Today we are intently focused on restoring power to all of our customers, but as we do with any storm, we’ll soon be looking ahead to how we can improve our future restoration efforts. The smart meter testing under way during this storm has been encouraging. While we do not look forward to future storms, we do look forward to continuing to enhance the restoration process for our customers.