How to embed real resilience in a climate of change

It’s no secret that we’re in a transformative and turbulent time for utilities.

Having attended the recent Itron Inspire conference, it is clearer than ever before that although there are several forces driving widespread transformation - changing legislation, shifting consumer expectation and the rise of distributed energy resources among them – the root cause is climate change.

The most immediate consequence of climate change is the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. In the past year, we’ve seen the effect of both extreme heat and cold across the United States. “Once-in-a-lifetime” conditions are now commonplace.

But the changing climate is also at the heart of the broader energy transition. In their efforts to reduce emissions, corporations, governments and consumers alike are all looking to their utilities to develop and deploy low-carbon solutions without putting the grid at risk.

That means utilities are fighting extreme weather on one hand and trying to enable the energy transition on the other.

It’s a new and unfamiliar ask – but there are clear actions for utilities to take charge and weather the storms ahead.

Dealing with disruption

To make sure the grid remains stable no matter what, many Distribution System Operators (DSOs) are eyeing next generation Smart Grid solutions to enable the intelligent grid of the future, either for the first time or as a replacement for first-generation technology.

This kind of technology is crucial. Not only does it improve grid visibility, it also increases reliability and resiliency by embedding operational flexibility.

Both visibility and flexibility are central to enduring, and thriving through, the disruption caused by the energy transition, which is on our doorstep: 

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of utility executives surveyed expect extreme weather events to increase and worsen over the next 10 years.


of utility executives surveyed think a cyberattack is likely to impact a distribution company, resulting in an interruption to the electricity supply, by 2022.

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of utility executives surveyed expect the energy transition to trigger a tipping point, after which distribution operations will be significantly impacted and the traditional operating paradigm becomes untenable.

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With such significant tipping points ahead, it’s time to match new technology with a more flexible operational approach.

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The expansion of emergency response

Despite the challenges to come, it’s not all “doom and gloom”. There are concrete actions they can take to address their new operating reality. 

In addition to investing in infrastructure hardening, the approach used for effective operational planning can be extended to address the chronic nature and intensity of weather and security events.  

Emergency response and outage restoration are both core competencies at any utility’s foundation. When an emergency operating center (EOC) is activated during such an event, the utility centralizes operations, communications, and reporting, pulling resources from internal departments and external mutual aid to affect the most efficient response.

As the grid is modernized and digitized, any event that impacts the availability of critical IT infrastructure, such as a cyber-attack, could be added to the same operational response playbook.

Evolving this existing capability can empower utilities with the flexibility and resilience they need to address constant disruption, as they develop an adaptive operational response that incorporates emergency management principles to navigate a wider range of operational challenges.

Data-powered decision making

Executing new operational plans effectively requires utilities to expand their use of available data and insights.

Distributed intelligence solutions deployed at select North American utilities have given them the ability to make more immediate decisions at the premise level. They can also assess data collected from multiple sources over time to make more informed operational decisions. 

For example, assessing data about power quality during a major event through distributed intelligence could detect partial power situations in three phase and networked situations more effectively. 

Better real-time insights into the connectivity model could also inform a stronger understanding of nested outages. These would help to inform restoration of both the data network (FAN outages) and the grid (meter/grid device outages).  

At an aggregated level, short and long-term planning is far more powerful when it feeds off a variety of data sources, including weather data, distributed energy generation and utility asset information (especially performance and SCADA data).  Continuing with the example of a major event, the data will help a utility not only predict the way a grid responds during outages, but also how the grid is able to rebuild.  

The reason distributed intelligence is so powerful is that it enables a utility to isolate an issue and introduce a solution (that’s often self-healing) without an impact on broader operations. This layered intelligence, coupled with Artificial Intelligence and automation, makes it easier to pin-point and quickly resolve issues, and ultimately creates a more resilient grid. 

As powerful as this combination can be, it also challenges utilities to work across silos. It will be those organizations who match the integration of robust AI and machine-to-machine communication with a focus on human interaction that will be best placed to drive operational flexibility.

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Tipping the scales

Change isn’t coming – it’s already here.  But that shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

From likely weather or security events, to non-traditional market entrants, to an evolving business model, utilities can take concrete steps today to plan for the inevitable change of tomorrow. 

Incorporating principles from emergency management planning into regular operational planning will help utilities adapt to the increasingly common threats facing their business.

Extending the use of AI to drive both short-term action and long-term operations will allow utilities to be more proactive in addressing the changing nature of operations. 

And finally, continuing to evolve the organizational model to drive increased communication between humans and machines will increase both efficiency and responsiveness, allowing utilities to compete more effectively in an evolving market.

Contact us today to discuss how distributed intelligence can empower your business.

Megan Krug

Managing Director – Consulting, Utilities, Grid Modernization

Lorna Huang

Managing Director – Industry Solutions and Services, Utilities

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