Forged in Crisis: Utilities Display Strengths Built in Adversity at Chartwell’s Outage Conference

By Steve Waters, Senior Consultant –

Nietzsche teaches “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Utilities across North America flexed their uber strengths built during the adversity of the last 18 months at PowerUp: Chartwell’s 15th and largest outage conference held virtually this week.

Just as they manage planned and unplanned outages, utilities now must overcome anticipated and unexpected crises – often overlapping. During a historic 2020 season with 30 named storms, Entergy responded to no less than five hurricanes in quick succession, earning Chartwell’s Gold Outage Communications Best Practice Award for their multichannel communications before, during, and after these storms.

Out west, Southern California Edison’s continuous improvement to serve their customers and communities in the face of drought, wildfires and Public Safety Power Shutoffs garnered them a Sustained Excellence award, while PG&E also improved PSPS communications with more personalized, timely, and informative messages.

If you’re predicting rolling outages or emergency shutoffs, your first guesses probably aren’t a heatwave in New York or a winter storm in Texas, so naturally, ConEdison turned the former into improved pre-emptive shutoff notifications, and utilities like Oncor and AEP responded to the unprecedented operations and communications demands of Winter Storm Uri. AEP has deployed a predictive model using historical data to estimate the impact of storms on customers and equipment and the resources required to respond, which earned AEP the Silver Outage Restoration Award.

And the pandemic challenged utilities to develop safety protocols, enable a remote workforce, and engage customers, communities, and employees. A panel from Duke, FP&L, and Oncor shared lessons from the pandemic and other challenges.

What Nietzsche didn’t teach us we already knew from eastern wisdom: the flip side of crisis is opportunity. Utilities continue to turn crises and challenges into opportunities.

Utilities presenting at the PowerUp Conference are leveraging technology to improve outage response. Alabama Power took home the Gold Outage Restoration Award with its Advanced Metering Infrastructure-enabled process to identify nested outages, called Super Ping (Nietzsche would approve). DTE is also using AMI and voltage checks to improve response to nested outages. On the vanguard of the tech wave, AEP is doing groundbreaking work to serve customers through voice-enabled devices such as Amazon Echo or Google Assistant.

Communicating with customers proactively and empathetically in their preferred channels is a growing strength of utilities at PowerUp. TECO won the Silver Outage Communications Award for improvements to their digital outage reporting that raised their Power Quality & Reliability scores, while Alabama Power’s new Voice of the Customer tool integrates customer feedback into their Outage Alerts and Outage Map for actionable insights within one hour! Ameren maintains customer touchpoints during extended outages with triggered Empathy Alerts, while Hydro Ottawa has built energy thought leadership through its “Think Energy” podcast.

The PowerUp Conference Hub remains accessible to attendees for four weeks, and we will continue to tell the stories of this pantheon of uber utilities in case studies available to  Chartwell Insight Center members.