Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why Does Fixing A Blackout Take So Long?

A power outage, no matter how long it lasts, is disruptive. Imagine a banking professional in the middle of transmitting a huge sum of money, then the lights go out. How about a concert artist in the middle of a song, then the entire arena turns dark? What about doctors in the middle of a crucial operation? With such huge impacts, blackouts have to be resolved as fast as possible, if not at all prevented.

Some power outages are caused by fairly trivial things like falling trees or downed power poles. But, did you know that such blackouts are usually the ones that last the longest, especially in developing countries? The reason is that dealing with such electricity interruptions in these areas still remain to be a largely low-tech process. Most utility providers learn about such incidents the old-fashioned way, i.e. when someone concerned calls them and actually reports to them that the “power is out”.
Once they get the call, they send a crew out to investigate about the problem. This is where the waiting game peaks. Inspecting the electricity lines can be a lengthy process, because they can often stretch to several kilometers. Once the crew has located the problem, they will manually open the surrounding “switches” to isolate the area. Remember, the crew cannot work on electrical wires with the power on, so at this stage electricity remains interrupted. Once the crew has isolated the problem by opening the switches around the damaged segment of the line, they can start turning the electricity back on for the other customers outside the isolated area. For clients within the problematic area, waiting continues….

Feeder switching
Thankfully, there is a nascent technology in emerging countries called automatic feeder switching that is capable of virtually skipping all the steps needed to isolate the damaged segment of the electrical wire. The technology entails a network of switches and control programs called Fault Location, Isolation and Service Restoration (FLISR), which will do the hunting work in lieu of the conventional process.

From identifying the problem, to locating the damaged area, to isolating the problem segment, to restoring power to the areas outside the problem zone, the FLISR system has got it covered.

Still in its infancy
The FLISR technology seems promising, but it still has a vast ground to cover before it can be fully deployed and be commercially available in developing regions. While the technology is still maturing, there are temporary power plants that represent an excellent measure to prevent the inconvenience and damages of power outages. Rental power plants have the ability to provide power where needed, when needed, owing to its state-of-the-art technology and plug-and-play configuration. Mobile power stations find application in a wide range of situations, and no matter where they are used, they are capable of providing power on extremely short notice. Hiring the services of a temporary power provider is proven more cost-effective than bearing the huge losses caused by power outages that can last for extended hours, sometimes even days.

Out with the old
So, why does fixing a blackout take so long? Because utility providers in emerging markets are yet to take advantage of the highly innovative technologies that are nowadays made available. Today, technologies make it easier to solve problems that have been in existence for generations. While FLISR or temporary power plants may not absolutely eradicate load shedding or power interruptions, they are able to mitigate their effect, so that humans can go on with their lives with as little disruption as possible.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

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