August 17, 2020

Catalyst Insights Lead The Way In Optimizing Blue Grass Energy’s GIS AMI

Futura Catalyst’s Visualization Tools Help Blue Grass Energy To Raise Reliability While Lowering Costs

Blue Grass Energy of Nicholasville, Kentucky provides a great example of eye-opening insights and rapid return on investment in GIS, delivered by the co-op’s utilization of Futura’s Catalyst visualization tool.

Blue Grass has the Landis + Gyr solution L+G RF Mesh for Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), which is currently installed at strategic locations across more than 50% of their 60,000 electric meters.

Mike Williams, CEO of Blue Grass Energy says “Our AMI system provides us with the ability to receive a data update for each meter every 5 minutes, which is virtually real-time, and as an engineer, it is very eye-opening for me, for example, just within one week of installing Catalyst, we found two transformers with short circuit or high voltage conditions.”

Williams adds “We would have been delayed in finding these until the member voiced concern about their electric service. I wish we had these tools a long time ago. It gives us insights into our system that we never had before.”

Futura Catalyst & AMI Is An Ideal Combination: A Fitness Tracker For Your Electric Distribution System

For Williams, Catalyst is part of his daily morning ritual. “When I come into work, I do my COVID-19 screen and then I pull up the Catalyst system and see how the distribution system is doing.”

Williams looks at his Catalyst dashboard almost every day because it helps find trouble spots and voltage issues. Shortly after they found the two transformers which needed replacement, Blue Grass Energy’s team was also quickly able to find three voltage regulators that were faulty as well.

Instead of just using the AMI system to automate the role of meter reading, it is being used by Blue Grass Energy to also function as a way to take the grid’s “pulse” in real time and in detail—an area of solutions known as Distribution Automation (DA).

It is also, according to Williams, shaping up to be a key part of how the utility will plan for grid improvements in the future. “We had started rolling out the RF system so it would work for us as a DA solution, based on our selecting strategic locations on each electric feeder for the installation of the new meters. So we are seeing each feeder’s line voltages in pseudo real time, which will help us perform our system planning better.”

Ease Of Use & Depth Of Capabilities

It is the fact that Catalyst makes it easy to see patterns that make all the difference. According to Williams, “with Catalyst we can now leverage our investment in our AMI data—we had that data for a while but it was data overload because nobody wants to go through a lot of tables. But when you can graphically display and make it change colors based on different criteria you define, it makes it easier to view.”

“When it comes to planning, the detail level of the data is of great value in making the right engineering designs, including sizing equipment much more accurately. It is an easy and quick way to leverage two technologies. It enables us to actually take the data and put it to real-time use.”

Seeing Is Believing—The Power Of Visualization Tools

Catalyst displays all the data in a clear way, which Williams says provides “an understanding of detailed data we previously were not fully leveraging since Catalyst lets you see and use it easily. I know, as we start to get more and more of these advanced meters out there, Catalyst will continue to enhance our ability to be more proactive than we have in the past.”

Perspective Of GIS Specialist On New Visualization Tools

Brent Boyer, GIS Supervisor at Blue Grass, sees the ease of use in other ways as well. Boyer says, “Catalyst enables map edits to update easily, right after people post completion of their work orders. Most of my day involves sitting in front of the front of our GIS maps, and with the automation of the system, any changes show up quickly on web map.”

The different ways Catalyst is being leveraged across different groups within Blue Grass Energy has naturally extended the efficiency improvements. Boyer says that Catalyst is helping them follow up with system improvements after they commenced the use of a voltage reduction tool several months ago.

The low voltage project started independently of Catalyst, as Boyer explains: “Mike Williams came to me months ago, wanting a tool to display voltages across all our feeders, to help us identify critical low voltage areas. In this and other areas, Catalyst became a huge tool for us, giving us the ability to troubleshoot lines more effectively by tracing up and down and see what protective equipment we have at specific locations.”

Benefits Across The Organization Extend Beyond Engineering & Maps

Catalyst is a tool for others in the organization. Boyer says, “If someone new calls into our utility for the first time, asking about electric service, our Member Services Representatives now use Catalyst quickly so that they can see which side of our boundaries they’re on—now our MSRs like to use Catalyst to quickly get the answer.”

Prior to Catalyst, Boyer used to get a lot of calls internally as well, from Dispatchers, about getting answers from the national 811 number for call-before-you-dig. However, ever since Catalyst was put in place, it is easy for Dispatchers to handle those calls themselves.

“I cannot remember the last time I got one of those calls from Dispatch”, he says, “—it has been years.”

Another example from Boyer is a Blue Grass staff member who handles requests and tracking for street light changes. Now, with Catalyst she can look on the map to quickly view if a light is installed or not shown on the system. Boyer says “It is so much easier for her now, to quickly use the ViewMap tool in UPN, and answer requests quickly, for example letting me know I need to drop a light onto a particular pole.

Boyer concludes that a theme across all these and other work areas is that “Catalyst and Futura GIS are very stable and reliable solutions. We have no complaints because people have naturally taken to using these new tools, and they are finding them very helpful.”

Teamwork With Futura & Landis + Gyr

As Boyer explains, the folks at Futura worked very well with Blue Grass and with the people at Landis + Gyr, to ensure the new capabilities were built well.

“The Futura team got the job done with no hiccups or snags. We’ve been with Futura since 2008 and we’ve always had a great relationship—we figure things out, both directly and in collaborating with partners like L+G as well, determining how best to have things display, and how often the updates should be done. While it is normal to have some hurdles, Futura always gets the job done well.”

Boyer is also excited about using new capabilities with Catalyst and AMI to fine-tune distribution system planning in other ways, including how they set the size for transformers when they install them.  He says, “I am excited at how Catalyst will help us to do so much more detailed and accurate work when we predict the loading on individual transformers, and on the feeders overall.”

Boyer concludes “The possibilities to me are endless and Futura has worked really well with us to fulfill those possibilities.”