Customers Turn to Social Media to Vent on Momentary Outages: How Should Utilities React?

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In an earlier blog item, I took note of how customers are becoming increasingly annoyed at the rise in momentary power disruptions resulting from utility efforts to combat permanent outages. As has occurred with so many other frustrations, consumers have taken to complaining about momentary outages to a highly popular place to vent: social media.

In Florida, for example, one of the reasons why Florida Power & Light (FPL) chose to install sophisticated switches on thousands of feeders was because the utility had a lot of customers who had their snow bird homes in places like Boca Raton. Those folks got together on Facebook and began comparing stories about flashing traffic lights, dish networks resetting, and other power issues. There were all these things posted about what’s going on with reduced power quality, and eventually the customer started complaining vocally to FPL, which said, ‘I wonder what is going on because our data say we’re doing OK.’

You might recall from my earlier blog item that utilities generally don’t measure momentary outages, only permanent ones, when evaluating their performance. In FPL’s case, it was reviewing power performance from the substation down to the grid. When it began deploying smart meters and looking at performance from the smart meter up into the grid, the utility discovered its power quality was worse from the customers’ experience. FPL subsequently created something called the Customer Experience Index to measure its customers’ inconvenience stemming from the effects of momentary outages so they could get visibility.

Imagine the frustration following a momentary of not being able to get a prescription filled because of the hours it takes for the pharmacy to reboot its point-of-sale system and synch back to headquarters so it can release drugs. There’s are a lot of similar stories that illustrate the frustration customers have when dealing with the aftermath of momentary outages.

To address the growing concern, FPL identified a situation where its circuit breakers were based on instantaneous trips. The breakers would see a fault, open, and then close back on the line to test whether the line was clear. So they would blink the whole feeder.

S&C and FPL worked together on a solution where FPL has a trip delay to allow a fault interrupter at the side of position 1 off the substation to generally pulse the line instead of blink the whole thing.

By pulsing, which uses a fraction of the power typically used to test a line, FPL is able to avoid sympathetic voltage sags, thus circumventing momentaries on the other feeders. Also, by deploying sophisticated switches on the feeders, it has moved the outage problem to the lateral only. So yes, FPL still has a momentary, but it’s a much smaller number of customers who experience it, and even they get the lights back on in 30 seconds.

So for utilities, avoiding a potential social media backlash is about having an overall reliability strategy that understanding momentaries are not good for customers. And what you want to do is avoid a momentary becoming a sustained outage, which is what deployment of sophisticated reclosers is designed to do.

I’d be interested in learning in the Comments section below whether your utility similarly has faced a customer backlash via social media and whether your strategy was effective in addressing their complaints.


Mike Edmonds


六月 12, 2017