By Chandler Harrison, Account Development Executive
For today’s utility companies, keeping the power on is the most important consideration in substation management. But with more substations to run and increased demand from customers, saving time and money is more important than ever. So utilities turn to substation automation.
Substation automation is the use of data and technology to control a substation either remotely or without human interaction at all to build a more reliable power grid. This may entail power-system automation, feeder automation, grid automation or others.
But going beyond the technical infrastructure, there’s one more piece of substation automation to consider. Namely, the communication between a substation crew and the control center.
What Does Communication Have to Do With Substation Automation?
Substation automation includes any process or technology that simplifies the operation of a substation. And an important part of that operation is tracking whenever someone checks in or out of one of these areas.
Utilities use a myriad of processes, but the most common method requires substation employees to call the control center. Then, they wait on hold until a control center agent gives them the OK to enter or exit. Or substation workers proceed on their own, and officials track them later through an audit trail.
But there’s a new process that turns this outdated practice on its head. Substation crews no longer call in, and control center employees focus on more pressing matters. Utilities automate the entire practice, make it more convenient and track everyone who walks in or out of every substation with SubTrac.
What is SubTrac?
SubTrac is a modern form of substation automation that lets field crews communicate with the control center through texting instead of phone calls. So when it’s time to check in, the user sends a text and receives an automated reply.
This two-way text messaging system has plenty of benefits, including:
- Quicker responses and confirmations
- Frees field crews to get in and out of the substation faster
- Reduces calls to the operation center
- Allows staff to focus on potential restoration efforts
Automating your substation communication makes the operation easier for your business and for two important stakeholders: field crews and control center agents. Specifically, here’s how substation automation can benefit these two key groups.
Reduce Call Volume in the Control Center
Control center call volume varies greatly among different utilities and service areas. But for a set of substations with 150 crew members arriving for work each morning, control center agents must answer 300 calls every day, giving the operators approval to check in and out before starting or finishing work on site.
And depending on the nature of the work, those field crews may come and go at the same time. So that condenses those 300 calls into a couple 20-minute periods, causing stress in the control center and a backlog of calls.
That was business as usual for one major energy provider. But as SubTrac replaced phone calls with texts, the solution reduced daily call volume by between 50 and 70 percent. Control center agents are relieved of the responsibility entirely and are free to answer more urgent calls or monitor other systems. Read this case study, Increasing Efficiency in Substation Management, to learn more about how this company improved its substation automation.
Improve Efficiency for Substation Crews
As for field personnel outside the control center, substation automation lets them get in and out faster to get the job done. On a typical day for the above-mentioned utility using SubTrac automation, a substation operator could wait on hold with the control center for between two and five minutes before an agent could respond with confirmation to enter or leave the substation.
SubTrac reduced that wait time to about 15 seconds, dropping by as much as 95 percent. Plus, since this new process functions through standard text messaging, it is available for use instantly by virtually anyone. The always-on, convenient solution keeps field crews from feeling pressured to enter without checking in. So tracking substation activity is entirely automated with no audit needed down the road.
Thanks to the increased efficiency and convenience, substation crew members using the text message system have given the new process very positive reviews. Text messaging has long been the channel of choice for customers in other industries. Call centers have transitioned to contact centers with digital and text-based communication channels, and now utility control centers can do the same.
More Advice for Substation Automation
By applying these substation automation strategies, any utility can quickly reduce stress and wasted time in its control centers. Plus, they can lower call costs, track substation activity and maintain high safety standards for all substation operators.
If you’re interested in learning more about SubTrac, read this blog post to see how this new tool affects substation safety. Or for personal advice about your own business, please call or text a West Interactive Services expert at 800.841.9000.
Quality service, safety and cost savings are all important factors for every utility provider. Take advantage of all forms of substation automation, including in your communication, to find success in all three.
Chandler has been with West Interactive Services since 2014. He graduated from Columbus State and has more than 10 years experience in customer service and developing the customer experience. As an account development executive at West, Chandler works closely with the sales, marketing and client relationship management teams. And he helps identify and develop business solutions with utility partners to improve customer satisfaction, engagement and loyalty.