4 Critical Data Points for Grid Modernization

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As widespread and rapid change bears down on the grid and customers demand uninterrupted power, a reliable and resilient grid has never been more important.

This has driven utilities to invest in the grid at record levels, with 25 major investor-owned utilities spending an estimated $5.9 billion to harden the grid and make it smarter. These utilities are dedicated to ensuring their systems can enable the energy transition, meet customer needs, and face the growing threat of severe weather.

The surge in strategic investment represents the future grid utilities of all types and sizes are aiming to build. To achieve this goal, it’s vital regulators approve transformational grid-modernization plans.

An ironclad business case built on real-world data is critical to persuade regulators and instill confidence investments will yield tangible results for customers and equip the grid with forward-looking technology. And by incorporating various data sources, the business case becomes even stronger. 

As you prepare to advance the grid, layering multiple data points can help you build an undeniable business case for modernizing your system: 

  1. System Outage Data: To evaluate the impact of grid-modernization efforts, you need a benchmark for comparison. Collecting and analyzing system outage data is fundamental to assessing the present state of the grid before deploying any solution. As severe weather grows more intense and frequent, it’s also important to include major event days (MEDs) in your evaluation. The effect of black-sky days on resilience because indices such as SAIDI and SAIFI exclude storm-related outages. It is also important to quantify how critical facilities, such as hospitals, police stations, and airports, perform during severe weather conditions.

  2. Customer Experience Data: Boosting customer satisfaction is key for any grid-modernization strategy to gain approval. Using customer-centric metrics, such as Customers Experiencing Multiple Interruptions (CEMI), or tracking households calling frequently about outages can pinpoint areas that need improvement. These troublesome spots aren’t always apparent because metrics such as SAIDI and SAIFI assess the average interruptions across the entire system. This additional information can help utilities tailor solutions to meet rising expectations, enhance service quality, and ultimately make customers happier.

  3. Pilot Data: A pilot of smart grid technology offers utilities a chance to gather real-world data without the cost or complexity of a full deployment. This information is also the backbone of a successful business case because it shows how effectively the proposed solution meets the objective. So, it’s critical to determine how and when to collect operational data as well as who will spearhead constructing the business case with this information. In a few months, the pilot provides enough evidence to extrapolate the long-term benefits.

  4. Financial Data: Acquiring additional funding for broader deployment means gaining support from numerous stakeholders. Multiple financial models can help utilities anchor their business case and get buy-in from all parties. Is the objective to reduce operations and maintenance (O&M) expenses with fewer truck rolls? Do you want to translate how many interruptions will be avoided per dollar spent or calculate how much each customer will save by mitigating outages? Or all of the above? Utilities can use various financial tools to illustrate total savings and help justify allocating capital dollars for a widescale deployment of the desired solution versus other alternatives.

Southern Utility Modernizes Grid With Data-Driven Approach

Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, layered multiple data sets to build a powerful case for modernizing its laterals with S&C’s TripSaver® II Cutout-Mounted Recloser. 

Through robust system data analysis that included storms, the utility uncovered the outsized impact of nuisance outages on its grid. As catastrophic weather events grew more frequent, mounting resilience issues were affecting customer satisfaction. Capturing this data helped the utility identify areas with poor performance and consumers experiencing frequent power disruptions. 

By deploying TripSaver II reclosers to these locations and collecting data from a pilot, Alabama Power demonstrated how these households went from experiencing a sustained outage more than twice a year to once every three years. The utility saw an 70% improvement in SAIFI and 57% improvement in SAIDI where it deployed the TripSaver II reclosers.

Using multiple layers of data, Alabama Power built a compelling business case showing clear benefits to customers while improving its own operations.

“We were able to combine multiple data sets to build a robust data-analytics tool to evaluate our system that would help us prioritize the most strategic investments,” said Shane Powell, Alabama Power data analytics and innovation manager. “It gave us the targeted locations to install TripSaver II reclosers. The data have shown how these lateral reclosers have quickly improved our system for our customers while also providing incredible O&M savings. We believe they are now a core part of our grid-modernization plans.”

After receiving approval from the local regulator, the utility is implementing a widescale TripSaver II recloser deployment, installing 1,500 of them each year over 10 years.

Guidance for Every Step of the Way

The grid faces extensive and immediate changes, and transforming the grid is essential to address these challenges. Harnessing the collective power of multiple data sources is critical to accelerating these efforts and ensures future investments will produce positive results for everyone. 

At S&C, we’re here to support you on this journey. We can help you leverage this information to construct a compelling business case, demonstrate a plan’s long-term value, and gain approval from your local regulator. 


Kumar Chandran

Publication Date

December 6, 2023