CGI Success Story
Smart Technology for Smart Grids: Improving Energy Management and Reducing the Duration of Power Outages
In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy swept across the Atlantic Ocean and slammed into Eastern Seaboard. Spanning 1,800 kilometres wide with winds up to 115 kilometres per hour, the storm left a $75 billion trail of destruction in its wake. This included significant damage to underground and aboveground systems that comprise the electrical power grid. Superstorm Sandy knocked out power to 8.1 million homes, impacting people across 17 states and 5 Canadian provinces. This included 49,000 homes and businesses in Québec. More than 57,000 utility workers fled to New York alone to help utility companies restore power to the city. Despite the heroic efforts of crews that worked around the clock, it took up to two weeks to restore power to many parts of the region. A key challenge facing utility personnel: how to locate, diagnose and resolve each problem in the electrical grid as quickly as possible – particularly amidst debris from the storm. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, utility companies were forced to deploy crews to storm affected areas one-by-one to physically source, assess and repair damage to electrical systems. This time consuming process left millions of people in the dark – and in sub-zero temperatures – for many days.
CGI, a leading provider of information technology (IT) and business process services that has served the electricity industry for more than two decades, aims to address this challenge and help utility companies better manage electrical power grids. Electricity providers across North America and around the world are upgrading existing electricity systems to sensor-based and computer-managed smart grid systems. This creates the opportunity for these companies to better monitor and manage the health of cables, transformers and other equipment that work together to provide electricity. To harness the true power of smart grid systems, operators require new tools and technologies to capitalize on the potential of this infrastructure. This includes the ability to pinpoint and resolve problems in the power grid as quickly and efficiently as possible. CGI is leading an Equation R&D sub-project that strives to deliver this capability to mission-critical utility companies.
Leveraging funding provided by the Government of Québec through the Equation Project, CGI is developing software that will enable utility companies better manage smart power grids and outages for clients. It will help electricity providers to better operate their distribution network and reduce energy consumption by field crews during day-to-day operations through optimized scheduling and routing of personnel.
CGI is developing two software products for utility companies that reduce the cost of smart grid ownership and operation, and the carbon emissions generated by their fleets: a remote asset management tool and a workforce management tool.
CGI’s Distribution Asset Operations Tool will provide operators with a comprehensive 360 degree view of the entire smart grid through any web-based interface on a laptop or handheld device. It will gather data from sensor-based smart metering systems deployed throughout the grid, and provide more accurate real-time information about its status. This will enable utility companies to better manage the grid and ensure seamless operation. For example, it will help an operator to track the life cycle of planned and unplanned work on the smart grid; consistently assess the health of all technology and equipment; and plan for required upgrades and repairs. Through an interface to smart meters and remote control devices, it will also automatically detect and flag problems in the grid that require immediate resolution. This new software will also generate information that helps utility companies to better predict and prepare for potential damage to the electrical grid during storms and natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. This will help utility companies mitigate some anticipated challenges, proactively develop work plans for emergency scenarios, and restore power to clients faster when outages occur.
CGI’s Workforce Management Tool will help utility companies optimize the use of personnel. It will allow operators to identify the exact dispatch location of a fault in the electrical grid and determine the best course of action to minimize power disruption for clients. Issue resolution typically requires field action by a technician, incurring time, cost and carbon emissions from the trucks deployed to physical sites. This CGI software tool will optimize crew displacements and travel. It will even help to reduce the number of technicians dispatched to resolve problems on location – as well as the volume of carbon-emitting utility trucks on the road. This will also decrease the cost of smart grid management and repair – and the time to power restoration for clients.
This tool will also help to facilitate greater collaboration among technicians who are already in the field managing repairs at different locations. For example, it will help these engineers to establish a meeting point and time to exchange tools and information that may be required to support ongoing repairs. This eliminates the need for technicians to return to a central depot to gather what they need, reducing the carbon emissions generated by their vehicles and maximizing their time.
Over the last year, CGI developed the first release of each product. The company completed the initial design and coding of the software, and it is now testing and validating the functionality of these tools which target utility clients across North America.
According to Gilles Naud, Senior Researcher with the utilities division of CGI, the software tools will enhance the management of smart electrical grids, while enabling operators to reduce energy consumption and impact on the environment.
“These user-friendly products work together with open standards and capitalize on cloud computing techniques to help achieve greater efficiencies in grid operations,” says Mr. Naud. “In particular, the Mobile Workforce Management Tool will help utility companies build and maintain their smart grid infrastructures using intermittent and renewable power.”
“We have more than 20 CGI employees working on this Equation sub-project,” said Mario Boulanger, Senior Director with CGI. “We are bringing more than 25 years of in-house utilities experience to bear to develop smart grid management tools that address the needs of electricity providers and the clients who rely upon them. When implemented, these products will deliver cost savings to utility companies and many social and environmental benefits to society. This includes fewer power outages, faster restoration when service is disrupted, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.”
CGI emphasizes the value of Equation for participating innovators, CGI clients and Québec. “Funding provided by the Government of Québec through Equation, and Québec-based R&D coordination facilitated by Prompt, are instrumental to the success of this project and the progress achieved to date,” said Mario Boulanger. “It is catalyzing the development of an innovation with immediate application in smart grid management and potential applications for other smart infrastructure. This includes the monitoring and management of smart meters and other technologies that will shape intelligent cities of the future.”