The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE's) Office of Electricity (OE) announced recently that PRECorp is one of nine Phase 1 winners of the inaugural American-Made Digitizing Utilities Prize. This $675,000 prize – $75,000 for each team – connects utilities with interdisciplinary teams of software developers and data experts to transform digital systems in the energy sector through data analytics, processing, quality assurance, storage, and deletion, according to a media release.
“The electric industry sector is facing a massive amount of data from various sources, challenging traditional methods of data acquisition, use, and storage,” said Gene Rodrigues, Assistant Secretary for Electricity, in the announcement. “There is an emerging need to quickly process large data sets to improve reliability and resilience of the electric grid and meet new demands from the integration of renewable energy.”
Phase 1 of the Digitizing Utilities Prize invited developers to solve predetermined utility challenges in Tracks 1 and 2, and allowed for any solutions to be proposed in Track 3. Competitors worked on utility partner challenges within one of three tracks to propose software solutions that improve how the energy industry manages, stores, and processes data. Judges selected three teams from each track — nine in total — to receive a $75,000 cash prize and advance to Phase 2 of the competition where they will have the opportunity to work directly with the partner utilities.
PRECorp’s project is focused on detection of anomalies that can contribute to outages, wildfires, or diminished power quality. “This is something we were already pursuing, but it was an opportunity to supplement funding to continue our work product and concept,” said PRECorp VP of Engineering Quentin Rogers. “Electrical connections on the grid are mechanical in nature and can deteriorate over time. These can ultimately fail and show up as outages or even cause arcing that can lead to a wildfire. The Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) meters already installed at many utilities provide real-time sensors across the entire distribution system that can provide insight to the issue. Inspection of connections can be difficult and costly to assess with the naked eye or even with specialized tools.” The PRECorp Team – named “Moonshot” - are fine tuning complex algorithms where data from these meters can be used as alerts to problems on the electrical system that may not be easily discoverable by humans with a regular ground-based inspection.
To put it simply, PRECorp staff in Engineering and IT developed a software and process using AMI to detect instances where the voltage at the meter isn’t what is expected for the power being delivered. The software sensors can send up red flags indicating a problem before it becomes a failure that could result in an outage or wildfire. This is a direct use of machine learning, where computer systems can help predict problems before they happen.
The other two winners in the Digitizing Utilities Prize Track 3 are an Electric Vehicle Integration solution from Riverside, CA; and a solution to mismatches in distribution data models from Orlando, FL.
In Phase 2 of the Digitizing Utilities Prize, PRECorp and other Phase 1 winning teams will have until September to work with utility partners to implement their proposal and demonstrate how other utilities could use their software solution in the future. Up to three winners of Phase 2 will receive a portion of the $425,000 total cash prize pool.
The Digitizing Utilities Prize is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity and directed and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Learn more and follow our progress at https://www.herox.com/digitizingutilities .