On May 25, 2015, Houston experienced a rain storm of historic proportions. More than 11 inches of rain pounded the region in one night. By morning the highways were flooded, and in the hardest-hit neighborhoods homeowners were being rescued by boat.
In fact, Houston saw some of its worst flooding since Hurricane Ike slammed into the Gulf Coast in 2008. But even as the unrelenting rains poured down that Monday night, CenterPoint Energy personnel was in the control rooms and on the streets using smart technology and Big Data to prepare for the inevitable power outages.
A leader in smart grid maturity
CenterPoint Energy is an energy delivery company that includes electric transmission and distribution, natural gas distribution, and energy services operations. The utility, and its predecessor companies, has been weathering Texas storms for over 140 years. Today, CenterPoint Energy maintains the wires, poles, and electric infrastructure that serve a 5,000-square-mile service territory in the Houston metropolitan area.
This infrastructure has seen dramatic improvements since Hurricane Ike.
In early 2009, CenterPoint Energy embarked on an extensive five-year program to deploy smart meters and implement intelligent grid technology. This program was funded by a US$200 million federal investment grant from the United States Department of Energy.
To date, CenterPoint Energy has installed more than 2.3 million smart meters, and the utility has been cited as having one of the most mature smart grid deployments in North America.
Responding to outages
The real-time information provided by these intelligent meters is helping the utility improve efficiency, reduce costs, and respond more effectively to power outages.
“We have dramatically reduced time to diagnosis,” notes Dr. Steven Pratt, CenterPoint Energy’s IT-corporate technology officer in a Bloomberg Businessweek case study. “We can tell if an incident, such as a power outage, is related to something inside a customer’s house that they are responsible for – or if it’s something on our side of the meter that we need to address.”
The smart grid project also includes intelligent grid devices such as fault location, isolation, and service restoration (FLISR) systems. “These systems help us detect power outages and reroute power across downed circuits, even as our field crews are being dispatched to repair the storm damage,” explains Shachella James, a senior IT manager at CenterPoint Energy.
Next steps for data
“Smart grid technology is only one way we use data to improve our emergency response,” says James.
As the Bloomberg Businessweek study points out, CenterPoint Energy uses weather forecasts and historical data to predict the likely magnitude of an outage based on the age of the equipment in the area and other factors. “This allows us to have the right resources in place even before the storm comes through,” Pratt says.
Earlier this year, the utility also announced that it is working with SAP and Accenture on an asset analytics solution that will integrate the utility’s information technology (IT) with operational technology (OT). This IT-OT integration solution, designed to take greater advantage of the Internet of Things, will combine business data, sensor data, and external data feeds into a unified data model on the a cloud platform.
CenterPoint Energy expects to leverage deeper insight into its asset base to target planned asset replacements, which can further reduce the risk of future storm damage.
Keeping the lights on
Big Data and smart devices help CenterPoint Energy ensure reliable delivery of electricity and natural gas to its customers every day and in any weather. But let’s be honest, there’s nothing quite like a severe storm to remind us just how much we value our ability to turn on the lights.
“Responding to emergencies is a priority for CenterPoint Energy and our industry as a whole,” says James. “Data and technology can’t turn back the storms, but it definitely helps us get people’s lives back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Follow me on Twitter at @JohnGWard3.
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