Smart meters: the new power outage reporter

Reliance on customers calling in to report power outages will end

"Everything starts with a call."

When the power goes out in B.C., Warren Quan's team gets a phone call, usually from a customer whose power is out. He's the manager of BC Hydro's restoration centre, which leads the process of getting power back to customers during an outage.

A phone call reporting an outage is the first step in getting the lights back on. Until the phone rings, BC Hydro has no way of knowing that the power is out.

Winter weather can mean more outages

High winds can bring trees down onto lines, increasing the number of calls coming in as customers lose power. Although BC Hydro is an industry leader when it comes to reliability, winter storms have a habit of messing with power lines.

Getting lights on, quickly & safely

As more customers phone in, the restoration centre gets a fairly accurate picture of the outage and how many are without power.

A "key call" from a customer describing something they've seen or heard — like a tree down on a line — is an important step to determining what's causing an outage and where. Line crews and technicians can then be dispatched to the area to repair fallen power lines and fix equipment.

With some predicting a cold winter for southern B.C., outages are top of mind. The good news is restoring power will get easier, thanks to the introduction of smart meters and a modern grid.

Faster identification leads to shorter outages

"Once the smart metering system is in place, BC Hydro will no longer rely solely on customers to phone in", says David Deyagher, BC Hydro's smart meters network operations manager. "Smart meters will automatically trigger a notification as power goes out, and when it returns.

"It is always helpful, however, to have customers phone in to provide additional information whenever possible. This is especially important as we continue to install smart meters throughout the province."

The restoration centre can communicate with the smart meter, checking to see whether it's receiving power from BC Hydro. That helps identify if a problem is with BC Hydro's equipment, or if the issue is with a customer's home, such as an "outage" caused by a tripped breaker.

Crews today also deal with nested outages — a smaller outage that's "hidden" within a larger one. BC Hydro can't "see" the smaller outage — until the lights stay off and the outage is revealed.

"Our crews restore power to an area and leave when work is completed, only to find out some customers still don't have power because of a nested outage somewhere down the line," Deyagher explains. "They have to come all the way back and deal with the problem. This is especially frustrating for the many remote communities in our province."

With smart meters, we'll know exactly which customers have power. That means fewer unnecessary trips for crews, saving time and money.

Knowledge is power — be prepared for an outage

With the prospect of storm-related outages approaching, BC Hydro is getting ready — and encouraging our customers to do the same.

You should be prepared for an outage and remember to report power outages to BC Hydro. At least until smart meters are installed throughout B.C.

If the power does go out, you can also get outage updates on your iPhone, BlackBerry or other web-enabled mobile devices.