KCPL first with meters, automation; APS second for T&D management.
IF THE 1997 ULTRA COMPETITION CAN SERVE AS A GUIDE, then perhaps the forgotten "wires" business offers the next great opportunity for new applications in information technology.
That's the lesson of this year's contest, which saw Kansas City Power & Light Co., and Arizona Public Service Co. win the top two prizes. Each company gained recognition for IT applications designed in large part to modernize electric utility distribution systems.
Sponsored by Public Utilities Fortnightly and IBM, the ULTRA competition recognizes those utility companies that develop the most innovative applications for information technology. The ULTRA, which stands for "Utility Leadership Award for Information Technology," spotlights those utilities that have raised standards of industry excellence with technology solutions to business problems.
This year's competition singled out five award-winners. The judging focused on seven criteria: (1) How the solution addressed a corporate need, (2) uniqueness, (3) quantifiable results, (4) productivity savings, (5) cost effectiveness, (6) integration with existing solutions and (7) flexibility to accommodate growth.
IBM and Public Utilities Fortnightly congratulate the winners and thank those that submitted applications.
First Place: KCPL
If the "wires business" is truly the utility of the future, then Kansas City Power & Light Co. may have just what it takes to make the wires hum.
In late 1993, KCPL commissioned an internal study to consolidate many existing but separate initiatives for distribution automation. That effort has helped KCPL implement two major IT projects: (1) network meter reading, including data collection and storage, and (2) distribution automation, featuring capacitor bank control, switch control for service line restoration, line monitoring, voltage regulation, recloser control and fault detection.
KCPL contracted with CellNet Data Systems to provide the network meter reading services, through CellNet's UNIX-based, object-oriented database. However, KCPL drew on extensive integration with its own existing systems, such as those for billing and customer service. Meter information is stored in databases maintained by both companies. The integration effort included interfaces to extract meter readings, load profile interval data, and to receive and send such date in a real-time mode. The system is used to bill approximately 350,000 residential customers from some 365,000 CellNet-equipped meters. More than 5,100 single-phase demand meters also have been installed. KCPL can even monitor usage at a vacant premise, discouraging meter tampering and energy theft.
On the wires side, KCPL runs a metropolitan distribution system consisting of 493 circuits. By acquiring the ability to monitor and control the individual circuit power factor through capacitor automation, KCPL reports it has achieved improvements in line losses, voltage profiles and service quality. As the company explains, distribution capacitor automation offers an alternate method for monitoring, switching and optimizing power factor and voltage on each individual distribution circuit throughout the year. New capacitor controls have allowed KCPL dispatchers to make operating decisions based on real-time readings for voltage and current. Neutral current provides early warning of partial bank failures and blown fuses. Problems like cycling caused by limited flexibility of electro-mechanical controls are now resolved.
KCPL reports line losses fell nearly 7 megawatts during peak days. It claims a power factor of one has been achieved on many circuits and at the substation buses.
A vertically integrated electric utility serving more than 735,000 customers, Arizona Public Service Co. runs a $1.6-billion business in transmission and distribution that nets about $122 million.
Selected as runner-up, APS won acclaim from the ULTRA judges for its Construction and Maintenance Management System, or CAMMS, which combines software systems for work management and trouble calls for the T&D system, plus a geographic information system (em linked with "soft" interfaces to the company's existing financial and customer information systems.
The first CAMMS unit, known as "Maximo" (the T&D work management system), implemented in November 1996, draws on off-the-shelf software to provide for the initiation, scheduling and management of all T&D resources. The package allows for integration of work management systems for T&D and generating plants. Overall, the three CAMMS elements are interfaced using WD2, a customer middleware developed by APS to assure a coupled, but not too tightly integrated interfacing.
The second element, the Trouble Call Management System, analyzes the most probable cause of an outage, based on customer calls, and automatically transmits an electronic trouble order to a truck in the field. When customers complain of "no power," the call moves electronically from call center to CIS to TCMS, identifying the customer, the outage and any special conditions.
The GIS segment, the third element, is another off-the-shelf solution, providing the data base that supports the balance of CAMMS.
Three other utility companies received honorable mentions from the ULTRA judging committee: Commonwealth Edison Company, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Union Gas/Centra Gas Ontario.
The judges recognized ComEd for its Online Home Energy Audit, offered over the Internet (www.ceco.com/ucm/info/hmaudit.htm), to allow customers to analyze energy needs and run bill-impact scenarios to evaluate appliance purchase decisions. The software verifies the customer name and account number, then accesses billing information stored in ComEd's billing databases. A questionnaire asks customers about climate control, appliances and even recreational loads. ComEd promises an online response within five seconds. ComEd's online energy audit went "live" on Aug. 1, 1996, logging thousands of completed surveys in the first few weeks.
A mobile workforce management system, won mention for SDG&E. The company's SORT, which stands for Service Order Re-engineering Team, schedules customers appointments, provides real-time access to status information for work orders and the vehicle fleet, and alerts field workers to emergency conditions and potential missed appointments. It features more than 300 mobile data terminals for field workers responsible for turn-on services, gas services, electric outages, meter work and collections.
SORT ties into the company's paging system. It processes more than 1.2 million orders per year, employing the latest advances in high-speed data over radio equipment, mapping, paging and pen-based mobile computing. SDG&E estimates cost savings of between one-half and one hour per day, per field worker.
In a wide-ranging project involving most of a combined 3,500-employee workforce, Union Gas Ltd. and Centra Gas Ontario, Inc., planning to merge on Jan. 1, 1998, received an honorable mention for its distributed processing (client-server) computing infrastructure. Designed to ease the merger, the project involved a complete change out of desktops (about 3,000) and servers (160) and integration of midrange RISC computers (29). It also upgraded the telecommunications network for the future company, involving changes at some 83 networked physical locations, with total bandwidth capacity of 6.9 mb/sec.
Centra and Union, the two major gas utilities in Ontario, operate as subsidiaries of Westcoast Energy Inc. of Vancouver, B.C., under a shared-services arrangement.
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