To restore power quickly after a winter storm, Énergie NB Power must mobilize an army of repair crews—but manual forecasting processes and relying on personnel experience made it difficult to consistently identify the best places to position them.
Énergie NB Power uses Outage Prediction from The Weather Company®, an IBM Business, to forecast which areas of its network will be worst affected, and move its crews proactively before a storm hits.
Acceleratesmobilization of repair crews, helping to restore power to customers faster
Millions of dollarscould be saved per year by reducing the duration of outages
90%of affected customers had their power restored within 24 hours after a recent storm
Business challenge story
Bracing for extreme weather
Canada’s winters are among the coldest in the world—and approximately 60 percent of the province of New Brunswick’s 350,000 households rely on electricity to heat their homes. To keep its customers safe and warm in the winter, Énergie NB Power must focus on maximizing the reliability and availability of its electricity supply across the province.
Tony O'Hara, CTO and VP Engineering at Énergie NB Power, begins: “As the primary electrical utility in New Brunswick, it’s our responsibility to provide an adequate and reliable supply—especially during the winter, when temperatures can drop below -30°C [-22°F]. Severe weather in these conditions can place a significant strain on our transmission and distribution infrastructure, and we are always looking for ways to enhance the resilience of our network.”
In recent years, extreme weather events have become more common in New Brunswick—causing power outages and millions of dollars in cost to restore the electrical distribution network.
“Even a few days without power can cause huge economic and human impacts across the province,” continues O'Hara. “Some types of industrial processes are very sensitive even to brief outages. And crucially, homes that depend on electrical heating are vulnerable to prolonged periods without power.
“Ice storms pose one of the biggest hazards to our distribution network, as ice loading on the vegetation surrounding our infrastructure or the poles themselves can cause damage. Storms can also make moving around the province to carry out repairs difficult and hazardous.
“If we believe that bad weather is imminent, it’s essential to determine where we think our repair crews and resources will be needed most, and get them in position ahead of time—helping us restore power fast. For an extensive restoration effort, we can be spending in excess of a million dollars per day on mobilizing people and equipment, so it’s important to target those resources as accurately as possible.”
In the past, Énergie NB Power relied on manual analysis to predict the damage storms were likely to cause and the effort required to restore power.
“Our team relied on their knowledge of past weather events to forecast the likely damage to different parts of the network—which is hard to do well, unless you have many years of experience,” explains O'Hara. “The accuracy of our predictions was also heavily dependent on the weather data we had, which wasn’t always as detailed as we needed it to be.”
“As a result, it was difficult to make fast, confident decisions about where to station our repair crews, or whether to put additional contractors on standby. We decided to develop a more automated, objective approach to storm damage forecasting and outage prediction.”
Accurate predictions, faster repairs
To boost the speed and accuracy of its decision-making processes, Énergie NB Power deployed Outage Prediction from The Weather Company, an IBM Business. This analytics-driven solution utilizes The Weather Company’s global weather forecasting platform, and enables utilities to proactively respond to severe weather conditions, optimize restoration efforts, and minimize operational risk.
“One of the aspects of Outage Prediction we appreciate most is the granularity of the insights,” comments O'Hara. “We’ve only trained the analytics model with 32 significant weather events from the last five years so far, but the predictions are already helping to guide decisions.”
The solution provides a rolling 72-hour forecast for outages in each quadrant of the province. By comparing The Weather Company’s forecasts to the outages that resulted from similar events in the past, the solution predicts how many outage incidents the company should expect per day in each area.
While the quadrant-based approach is already making a positive impact on decision-making, Énergie NB Power is planning to enhance the predictive model and increase the precision of its predictions further still.
“We distribute power to households via 12 operating centers, and we are now working with The Weather Company to create outage forecasts for each center,” says O'Hara. “If we see that a storm is going to impact a certain area particularly heavily, we might opt to put additional local repair crews on call, move repair crews from other parts of the province into the area, or even hire extra crews on temporary contracts before the storm hits. By moving our crews closer to the centers where they may be needed prior to bad weather impeding movement, we will be able to restore power faster, while at the same time minimizing risk to crews.”
He adds: “Throughout our implementation process and beyond, the support we’ve received has been tremendous. In addition to expert technical assistance to help us train our analytics model, The Weather Company really went the extra mile to help us get up and running. Their attention to detail makes the difference between good service and great service—and we couldn’t be happier with our experience.”
Weathering the toughest conditions
Énergie NB Power is now using Outage Prediction insights to help support its decision-making processes—cutting restoration time after storms.
“We’ve already experienced some significant storms this winter, and our decision-makers have been backing up their experience and instincts with hard data from Outage Prediction,” says O'Hara. “Without a doubt, the information we are getting from The Weather Company solution is helping us optimize our use of resources across the province.
“On two occasions, Outage Prediction gave us the confidence to mobilize additional repair crews—and those extra resources made a real difference in helping us restore power in a timely manner. In fact, we were recently able to reconnect 90 percent of our storm-hit customers within just 24 hours, which is a very positive result during the middle of the winter.
“It’s worth noting that the tool has also given us confidence on occasion to not acquire additional crews—minimizing costs while still providing appropriate storm response. As we gain more experience using the solution, we are confident it will play an even more important role in our decision-making processes.”
The enhanced accuracy of its predictions is also helping the organization improve operational cost-efficiency.
“Bad weather in winter can quickly make roads impassable, and if our repair crews are stationed a significant distance away from where they are needed, it can sometimes take days to move them into position,” comments O'Hara. “Every day of a significant restoration effort can easily cost in excess of a million dollars—and by reducing delays, we’re improving our cost-effectiveness dramatically.”
By taking proactive measures to reduce the impact of storm damage, Énergie NB Power is also increasing the resilience of its network.
“During maintenance on our transmission and distribution power system, we sometimes need to take some of our assets offline temporarily,” explains O'Hara. “This can reduce the fault-tolerance of the network, because we have fewer backups in case something goes wrong. Under normal conditions, this doesn’t pose a significant risk, but if a storm were to hit while the network is positioned in an abnormal operating state to accommodate maintenance, it’s much more likely that any impact from the storm could cause an outage, or an outage affecting more customers than usual.
“Going forward it will be easier for us to identify these risks, and quickly adjust our maintenance plans to avoid doing this kind of work when extreme weather is expected. We can ensure the area is in its normal operating state, when it is most resilient. Similarly, if we know an ice storm is on the way, we can review our vegetation management schedules and, if warranted, quickly patrol the affected area to identify and trim any overhanging trees before the weather hits us.”
Based on its success with the solution, Énergie NB Power plans to extend and enhance its use of Outage Prediction.
“We’ve been comparing raw weather data from The Weather Company with our existing forecasting service side-by-side for a number of months,” says O'Hara. “It’s clear to us that the data we’re getting from The Weather Company is more accurate. As a result, we plan to make The Weather Company our primary provider for forecasting data.
“We’re also extremely interested in overlaying data from Outage Prediction on top of our geographic information system [GIS], which will make it easier to identify the types of assets inside a footprint of predicted weather, the density of customers in the affected region, and even the maintenance history of our equipment as recorded in our asset management system.”
He concludes: “While the frequency of adverse weather events is remaining relatively consistent, it is clear the severity of events is increasing, and it’s vital for us to manage those incidents as effectively as we can whenever they occur. By monitoring the weather and understanding where it’s likely to strike, Outage Prediction helps us make the informed, proactive decisions we need to restore households and businesses across the province safely and rapidly.”
About Énergie NB Power
Founded in 1920, Énergie NB Power generates and delivers electricity across the Canadian province of New Brunswick via power lines, substations and terminals to more than 350,000 homes, businesses, hospitals and schools. Dedicated to providing expert service and safe, reliable electricity at low and stable rates, Énergie NB Power has strong interconnections with all neighboring jurisdictions, providing the capability to export to or import from New England, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Take the next step
The Weather Company, an IBM Business, helps people make informed decisions and take action in the face of weather. The company offers the most accurate forecasts globally with personalized and actionable weather data and insights to millions of consumers, as well as thousands of marketers and businesses via Weather’s API, its business solutions division, and its own digital products from The Weather Channel (weather.com) and Weather Underground (wunderground.com).
The company delivers around 25 billion forecasts daily. It's products include the world’s most downloaded weather app, a network of 250,000 personal weather stations, a top-20 U.S. website, one of the world’s largest IoT data platforms, and industry-leading business solutions.
Weather Means Business™. The world’s biggest brands in aviation, energy, insurance, media, and government rely on The Weather Company for data, technology platforms and services to help improve decision-making and respond to weather’s impact on business.
For more, visit business.weather.com.