A behind-the-scenes look at the technology behind your electricity

By | 4 minute read | September 25, 2017


I think most of us can agree that electricity plays a pretty significant role in our lives. It gives us light, powers our electronics, and makes it possible to binge on Netflix when we feel the urge. At work, it powers machines that manufacture the goods and services we use everyday. When we lose electricity for a few moments, we groan out of annoyance, but it always magically comes back on. The electricity leprechauns must have fallen asleep for a few minutes, that’s all.

Unfortunately, there are no such things as electricity leprechauns, but it brings up an important point. What happens behind the scenes to make sure our homes and businesses are always powered with electricity? What role does enterprise asset management (EAM) play in providing electricity? We will look at how Great River Energy, an electric utility that services most of rural Minnesota, makes and moves electricity to 1.7 million customers with the help of EAM. See Figure 1.

great river energy customer base

Figure 1. Great River Energy coverage in Minnesota. Source: MaximoWorld 2017

Great River Energy provides 1.7 million people with electricity

Great River Energy is a not-for-profit cooperative which provides wholesale electricity to more than 630,000 member-consumers, or approximately 1.7 million people, through 28 cooperatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin. With $2.8 billion in assets, it is the second largest utility in the state, based on generating capacity, and the fifth largest generation and transmission (G&T) cooperative in the United States. With such a large footprint, it’s extremely important that everything operates smoothly.

Operator logs keep the lights on

The operator log enables systems operators to create and maintain shift logs. Shift log records contain details about shift changeovers, equipment changes, production losses, and near misses that occur during a shift.

These systems operators sit in dark rooms with many computer screens. When bad weather happens, they are the ones that keep your lights on. As part of their requirements, they have to log what is going on and manage associated records that deal with safety, scheduling and coordination with other parts of the business. The ability to do this task efficiently is vital to keeping everything on track.  Great River Energy realized their old system was not up to par in helping to manage these tasks, which is when they made the switch to Maximo, the world’s leading enterprise asset management solution. See Figure 2.

electricity powered by maximo

Figure 2. Maximo leadership in the energy and utility space. Source: Infographic, Maximo manages the world’s most asset-intensive organizations.

Challenges faced by Great River Energy

With the old system used by Great River Energy, there were a few key challenges:

  • Only half of the systems operators were able to log in the tool, while the other half (the transmission group) were not – creating a disconnection in the logs
  • System provided no easy way to tie into enterprise asset management software, making it impossible to log against assets or locations or record outages to specific assets.
  • Old system was very expensive to maintain and difficult to use due to lack of unified functionality
  • Unfinished functionality – the tool they were currently utilizing was not yet complete and had many dead-ends

Maximo energizes a failing system

Great River Energy brought in Maximo for their Transmission and Generation system operators. Generation operators are in charge of the plants, keeping them up and choosing how many megawatts (MW) they generate. Transmission operators deal with transmission of energy to sub-stations. While there are a variety of job tasks that fall to both types of operators, the commonality is operator logging.

The log is the portal into Maximo and any other tool that provides relevant information about the system. As Jade Warren, Senior Systems Analyst at Great River Energy stated, “The success of the solution really rises and falls with the resiliency of the operator log.” If the logs aren’t right, asset maintenance or service may not happen when needed.

In the early days of moving to Maximo, there were some users who were skeptics and did not believe it could provide the right capabilities. When given the chance to show it could work, the prototype spoke for itself. Based on the guiding principle that operators should be able to do everything out of a single screen, a tall order based on the typical use of showcasing only one order per screen, the solution is designed to improve efficiency all around. Skeptics soon turned to enthusiasts. Great River Energy now manages and tracks 182,000 assets in Maximo with plans to expand the use of the solution.

Learn more about how other utility companies are using Maximo

The use of Maximo at Great River Energy is just one example of the opportunities that Maximo can offer.  Check out some of these other examples of how to improve operations for your business and put your assets to work.

Read about how the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities provides safe drinking water to their residents with the help of Maximo and the IoT.

Can the IoT save New Orleans from flooding? Possibly. Find out how.

Learn how Suncoke Energy minimizes downtime to fuel their customers with coke, coal and power.

Also watch this demo to see Maximo in action!

References to Great River Energy use case used by permission: MaximoWorld by Reliabilityweb.com.