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Liability for Reliability

Dan Jacobson
By Dan Jacobson - 1/17/19 12:26 AM

The continuing turmoil in California regarding recent wildfires and utility liability raises an important question: When do reliability and safety transition from business and regulatory concerns to ones of risk management?

No matter the cause, electric faults will always be part of managing a distribution system. But sure to be scrutinized is the manner in which a utility prepares for and responds to events. The trends indicate a future where utilities and their executives may increasingly be held accountable for not exercising all means available to prevent damage from occurring.

Sensors provide a solution

Sensor technology certainly improves response times to events when they occur. If an animal, storm or equipment failure creates a fault on a remote section of line, it may take days to find the source and location without the information line sensors provide. Coupled with analytics that are able to determine the type and likely cause of the fault from information the sensor provides, this solution is the best available method to enable near real-time response to critical events.

From a recent article in FutureReady on self-healing grids, Kent Hedrick of Landis+Gyr had this to say, “One of the first things a utility should do is increase the visibility of their distribution grid through sensing. Planning will help a utility optimize the placement of sensors to maximize overall benefit.”  He added that circuit-level sensing is critical and something that likely can be done or augmented through smart metering.

Why is circuit-level sensing essential? “Utilities can use those sensors to locate, in a general vicinity or segment of line, where the fault occurred and shorten patrol time. Even better, they can bring in analytics and pinpoint exactly where the fault occurred. That’s the optimal solution.”