For more than a decade, our Board of Directors has outlined a capital plan to continue to improve the reliability of our system. When our current CEO joined us he took that plan to the next level, challenging the staff to strive for the first quartile of reliability. The strategy was to replace overhead lines with underground cables and replace older underground cables that were failing. Sections of the system that were prone to outages, impacted large numbers of members or were hard to repair were improved. These strategies worked well for many years, but required adjustment as our needs and technology changed.
Since the initiation of the reliability plan, the reliability trend (Figure 1 in How Electric Reliability Is Measured) has consistently increased as staff developed and enhanced company practices and improved performance. In 2013, years ahead of schedule, PenLight reached first quartile reliability. Year after year, it has worked to stay there.
“Reaching the first quartile was difficult,” CEO Jafar Taghavi says, “But what is more difficult is staying there, and PenLight works very hard to stay in the first quartile for our members.”
Today, the reliability program has adjusted to focus on technology. Converting sections from overhead to underground is largely coming to an end, and the worst of the older underground cables have been replaced. There is still more to do in select areas, but not as much as in previous years. In addition, overhead conductors in some areas are now being replaced by plastic-coated wires, which prevents tree limbs from causing outages.
While the steps we have taken were effective, the big gain in reliability and operating efficiencies will be technology. With a difficult storm season (Snowmaggedon 2019), PenLight responded well, but found opportunities to further improve and upgrade the system as a whole.
Upgrading equipment results in many benefits, including improved operational efficiency, effective and accurate communications, enhanced data collection and reduced environmental impacts. Updated equipment will notify us of outages, locate problems, automatically switch around the problem, if possible, notify our members and track the locations of our crews. The data from this network will help us run the system more effectively, respond to industry changes, and better plan for the future for our members.