Automation Innovation on the Line

How an Expanding Smart Grid is Shrinking Labor Inefficiencies

Since the dawn of electricity, utilities have had to rely on customers to be their eyes and ears out in the field. As outages happen, substations have needed customers to alert them of when and where the problem is occurring. Then come hours, days or even months of troubleshooting to pinpoint the exact issue.

Enter the Smart Grid, and these types of frustrations have begun to shrink significantly—to the relief of both the utility and its customers.

As wireless bandwidth increases, so does the ability of utility workers to do more out in the field. They can now pull up maps, read meters, and utilize a radio communication network all from a mobile device like a tablet (whereas, previously, an emergency radio communication network alone would require a significant portion of bandwidth). Devices like rugged tablets are making it possible for linemen to access diagnostic information, even under adverse conditions. Workers can be dispatched more efficiently. And automated data entry is reducing errors and processing time.

Perhaps the most impressive result of Smart Grid utilization, however, is the reduction in the number of times utility workers are called out into the field altogether. “Smart Grid and wireless communication have come a long way. They are allowing utilities to answer dozens of questions automatically that either couldn’t be answered or took many man-hours to answer before,” says Dan Schultz, Senior Product Specialist at Anixter.

In addition to labor savings through automated metering services, the Smart Grid also improves operational efficiencies and cost savings from:

  • Reduced capital requirements from fewer vehicle purchases
  • Increased revenues from more accurate meter reads and less electricity theft
  • Faster restoration of services following outages
  • Better electric distribution efficiencies and lower line losses from automated voltage controls
  • Lower electricity costs from reductions in peak demand

According to Schultz, these types of benefits will only increase as the grid of the future becomes more robust. More sensors will result in less guesswork, and better efficiency will allow workers to be better utilized. “With the Smart Grid, we can adjust to changes in business more proactively,” he concludes.