Major Outages After East Coast Snowstorm Highlights Need for Strong Energy Analysis Software

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The president of Ascend Analytics, a provider of energy analysis software to the power industry, explains why utilities need sophisticated forecasting and modeling applications to deal with catastrophic weather events in the short and long term.

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“Planning for an early season snow in the power industry isn’t as simple as trimming trees.”

The impact of massive weather events like the October snowstorm that downed trees and power lines across the Northeast will never be easy to predict, but Gary Dorris, PhD, President of Ascend Analytics, an energy analysis software provider, says his company’s newest product, PowerSimm Ops, can make it easier for the power industry to respond effectively and reduce outages and financial risk exposure when the bad weather hits.

Simulating weather across months and years has become a science but the local effects of nature’s wrath remain difficult to model. In the case of the northeaster that dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas, timing was everything. Heavy wet snow on still-leafy trees brought the branches down when the same snow two months later might have had far less impact. PowerSimm Ops, Dorris says, can be applied during an event, when the damages are known and the needs are immediate.

Without the right software, planning for such unexpected outcomes presents an almost overwhelming challenge for utilities and power producers who not only need to know where to deploy repair crews and how the unplanned outages affect fuel consumption and spot market prices but also whether capital investments in distributed automation and smart-grid driven “self healing” transmission lines could pay off.

Colorado-based Ascend Analytics offers a suite of solutions to tackle the short-term response and the years-out strategy for dealing with what sometimes seems like an increasing number of extreme weather events. The Halloween weekend snowstorm knocked out power for a million customers from New Jersey to Maine, this just two months after Hurricane Irene had some areas without power for over a week. “Planning for an early season snow in the power industry isn’t as simple as
trimming trees,” says Ascend Analytics President Gary Dorris. “Emergency conditions present substantial operational and financial risks that require actionable analytics to minimize the storm’s impact.”

In the short term, PowerSimm Ops helps system planners deploy units by the hour with inputs for status on thermal and renewable assets as well as transmission limitations, a crucial element in disaster response. PowerSim Ops can also generate short term price curves for coal, gas and other commodities as power producers ramp down to deal with outages and draw on a shifting mix of assets to work around downed transmission lines.

That ability to see and manipulate a company’s portfolio as a situation unfolds could be crucial, Dorris says.

“A big weather event can have a huge impact on an energy producer’s portfolio,” Dorris explains. “Being able to optimize that portfolio while the event is playing out is extremely valuable.”

The ability to customize inputs, a feature available in all Ascend Analytics software, offers additional advantages. Power company managers know the specific characteristics of the grid in the areas they serve. A utility accustomed to blizzards in the Upper Midwest will have different needs than a Southern California company planning for wildfires and both utilities could develop their own sets of sub-processes or work with Ascend Analytics to deploy a situation-specific module.

Beyond the immediate effects, Ascend Analytics PowerSimm Planner can help portfolio managers and power executives see the costs and benefits of new technology including automated distribution and undergrounding transmission lines. With emerging capabilities, utilities could re-route transmission instantly without sending repair crews to restring power lines and swap out damaged equipment. Distributed automation drawing on smart grid data could also make efficient use of power when supplies and transmission are limited.

Optimizing future infrastructure decisions comes with costs and planning for capital investment becomes an important play in every power company’s strategy, not just for dealing with weather and other natural disasters but also for regulation, load, dispatch and every day weather. With PowerSimm Planner, users can plug in the different capabilities and costs to get an accurate picture of where the optimum benefits may lie.

The combined advantages of PowerSimm Planner and PowerSimm Ops create a powerful tool for dealing with the inevitable unforeseen. Ascend Analytics software can’t predict when disaster will strike, but it can help deal with it when it does.

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Rick Polito
Ascend Analytics
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Rick Polito

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