How to push data and analytics all the way out to your substation

“What do you know about your substation?” asked Elizabeth Bray with Southern Company during the “New Approaches to Condition-based Monitoring and Maintenance” session at DistribuTECH 2017.

“When I turned 17 and got a car, my daddy told me if I took care of my car, it would take care of me. And your substations are like that,” she added.

Bray noted that the utility business, overall, collects lots of data on substation equipment such as batteries, circuit transformers and the like, without really using that data up front. We simply consult it after the fact, after something happens. To utilize that data to its fullest, you have to start with understanding what data is important, whether you actually have the important data you need and just where is this information stored.

“But, if you want to know the condition of your assets, you have to have the data,” Bray added, noting that conversations with a utility’s subject matter experts in the maintenance, monitoring field area can help focus eve better questions to answer to keep those “bad days” of breakdowns at bay.

“We’re trying to really drive proactive maintenance,” Bray noted. It’s about getting the right data, integrating it, analyzing it, visualizing it and, in the end, using that process to make better decisions.

Paul Reo with Fayetteville Public Works Commission reiterated Bray’s advice, adding that transformation is a common theme, in the industry, in all of our roles within that and even at this DistribuTECH 2017 conference. And that transformation applies to technology and all the way down to that hardware at the substation.

Reo told his own utility’s story to offer concrete details on that down-to-the hardware digital transformation.

In 2011, the utility kicked off a multi-phase project that ranged across the enterprise from financial planning to the customer portal.

“We’re a small utility, but this was still a complicated project to achieve,” Reo noted, adding that those achievements require a foundation—a good, solid one that allows you to use and mine data.

“It all starts with the initial design and implementation of those capital assets on your network,” he added. “End-to-end, we’ve created a single system of truth for these installed assets.” (So the user doesn’t have to be concerned, really, about which operation he’s really in. She can just focus on the job.)

Reo revealed visual examples from his utility’s Oracle-based system, showing various ways to activate and schedule a work order (with a materials list) and run reports—all in a support applications workflow. Data on installed assets are synched with the system as well, including automatic updates populating across that “single system of truth” Reo mentioned.

Reo did admit that his utility’s digital transformation journey was challenging at time, but they gained improved supply chains and asset management, as well as a view of what projects actually cost. Looking forward, the utility is looking at business intelligence and getting this program to do predictive analytics, project health analysis, allow for workflow tracking.

“We see this program as a building block to do advanced asset management. We’re not there yet, but we will get there. And that’s a point we’d all like to achieve with our utilities,” Reo told the audience.

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Opower Author
Kathleen Wolf Davis /

In the shortest terms: I'm the writer here at Oracle Opower. Been penning pieces about the energy biz for almost 20 years with stints at Electric Light & Power magazine, POWERGRID International magazine and Intelligent Utility magazine.