How Oncor and IBM will prevent weather-related power outages

Dangerous storms and high winds can cause vegetation to interfere with above-ground power lines. A new computer model can identify trees that require trimming.

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Power outages are a costly inconvenience for utility operators and customers alike, as practically everyone in the US relies on the function of always-on electronics, from specialized IT devices like RAID arrays, to healthcare devices like CPAP machines for sufferers of sleep apnea, to say nothing of food (and potentially love) stored in refrigerators. For utilities, deploying lineworkers to repair damaged power lines in often adverse conditions is expensive and dangerous.

To minimize the potential for weather-related power outages, utility crews typically survey areas for tree branches that could potentially cause damage in the event of storms or high winds, though this is an intensive and manual task, requiring logs of the last time a particular area was inspected and trimmed. On Wednesday, IBM Research announced a new resource developed on top of IBM PAIRS Geoscope to generate insight into vegetation that can pose a risk to electrical infrastructure, allowing electric utility operators to plan maintenance more efficiently.

SEE: Severe weather and emergency policy (Tech Pro Research)

The new resource, "The Weather Company Vegetation Management - Predict" utilizes a knowledge set of "geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and various weather models," according to a press release. It can also be used for overall electrical grid reliability and operations management, as well as wildfire prevention and storm management and assessment.

Oncor, an electric utility operator providing service for 10 million customers in and around the Dallas, Texas area, is using the new resource to manage 134,000 miles of electrical lines operated by the company. This could be particularly for utilities in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska-otherwise collectively referred to as Tornado Alley-as they face a potential for severe tornado outbreaks in 2019, starting in early spring.

IBM PAIRS Geoscope processes over 10TB of new data per day, and is claimed in the release to "[remove] the labor-intensive process of generating insights from geospatial-temporal data, which is known for its sheer size and complexity. The inability to access, query and analyze this class of big data in a scalable way is the reason it was long considered unsearchable data. IBM scientists invented a new way to run and analyze complex queries within minutes instead of weeks or months, making previously impossible insights now a reality."

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • IBM Research developed a new resource on top of IBM PAIRS Geoscope to generate insight into vegetation that can pose a risk to electrical infrastructure.
  • Oncor, an electric utility operator in and around the Dallas, Texas area, is using the new resource to manage 134,000 miles of electrical lines operated by the company.

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Image: EJ_Rodriquez, Getty Images/iStockphoto