For over 125 years, Newfoundland Power Inc. (Newfoundland Power) has provided customers with safe, reliable electricity throughout the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador. As operators of an integrated generation, transmission and distribution system, the Canadian utility Company services 87 percent of all electricity consumers in the province and is committed to providing electrical service in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
“We believe we are distinguished by the service we provide our customers,” says Gary Smith, Vice President of Customer Operations and Engineering for Newfoundland Power.
Owned by parent company Fortis Inc., Newfoundland Power purchases approximately 93 percent of its electricity from the Crown Corporation, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (Hydro), and generates the remaining balance from its own smaller hydroelectric plants. Serving over 252,000 customers and growing, the Company operates 23 hydroelectric generating plants, three diesel plants and three gas turbine facilities. Newfoundland Power maintains approximately 11,000 kilometres (km) of transmission and distribution lines and operates 130 substations.
With a vision of leading North American electric utilities in terms of safety, reliability, customer service and efficiency, Newfoundland Power has implemented a new asset management strategy, innovative technology and cost efficient projects to become an industry leader.
Asset Management Strategy
Newfoundland Power is committed to providing its customers with continual, high quality service. There have been significant improvements in electricity system reliability in the last two years, including responsiveness to power outages and maintenance practices, thanks in large part to the Company’s ten year asset management strategy.
“In 1999, reliability was a growing concern for the Company and its customers. Our average customer experienced 5.7 hours of outage time per year with 4.7 outages per year. This was a big concern for us,” explains Smith. “So we started a program targeted at improving the length of outages as well as the number of outages for our customers. With these programs in place, we’ve been able to reduce the length of outages from 5.7 hours per year to 2.4 hours, and reduce the number of outages per year from 4.7 outages to 1.7. So, we’ve been able to cut it half.”
The ten year asset management strategy also includes higher strength design standards, regular inspection cycles, standard inspection practices, and electronic data capture to improve analysis. The Company has made remarkable improvements in reliability since 1999 and is now working on maintaining these numbers by inspecting older assets and assessing their condition. Newfoundland Power’s aerial infrastructure currently covers more than 300,000 electrical poles, of which approximately 12,000 are over 60 years old, and the Company is formulating a plan to address and replace its aging infrastructure.
As part of Newfoundland Power’s overall strategy to address its growing customer base, the utility has implemented new technology to not only enhance customer service, but also to improve productivity and efficiency.
One advancement in technology is thermal imaging, which allows the Company to isolate issues and identify weaknesses in the system faster and more efficiently.
“Although the technology has been available for a while, thermal imaging is now more user-friendly so we started using it to inspect our lines,” explains Smith. “When electricity or currents passing through a wire or other electrical equipment generates excessive heat, it usually indicates that there is an issue with the equipment or with a connection.”
The Company is also increasing its use of Automated Meter Reading (AMR) technology. In the past, an employee would physically have to visit each house or business to read the power meter and record data. AMR gives employees the ability to retrieve data from a distance. Essentially, employees can drive down a street and remotely capture data for each power meter in the neighbourhood within 2-3 km without leaving their vehicle.
To enhance productivity and efficiency, Newfoundland Power has implemented an electronic dispatching system to organize and prioritize work requests.
“For the last 2-3 years we’ve installed computers in all of our service vehicles along with the implementation of our electronic dispatching system. Customer information and work requests are organized using different algorithms and software to determine the priorities and effectively dispatch work to crews electronically,” says Smith. “As the day goes by employees can open and close jobs as the work gets completed. It helps us work more efficiently to dispatch work to our crews and therefore respond more quickly to our customers.”
Newfoundland Power is working to expand its transformers capacity and plans to invest and install 12 more power transformers over the next five years.
“In 2003, 20 percent of our power transformers had reached 80 percent or more of their capacity,” explains Smith. “Today, 40 percent of our transformers are at 80 percent or more capacity. We have in our budget to install an additional 12 power transformers across our service territory over the next five years to address this issue.”