Between the lines: That will never happen

Dawson PPD General Manager

Gwen Kautz, Dawson Public Power District General Manager

By Gwen Kautz, Dawson PPD General Manager
gkautz (at) dawsonpower.com
308-324-2386

I just finished reading an article about shopping malls that are closing across the United States because online shopping is replacing a physical trip to the store. As an avid online shopper, I can see this happening and I’m one of the reasons. I sure didn’t want it to happen because a trip to the mall is often fun “retail therapy.” Did those stores see the trend and think “that won’t happen to me?”

How many businesses have had to change their business model in the name of progress? How many didn’t? We don’t have to look far to find other examples:

  • Kodak cameras and film (now digital)
  • VHS tapes (movies are now online)
  • Physical disk of software (now it’s a download link)
  • Record players (online music or tiny portable devices)
  • Landline telephone companies (typically replaced by cell phones)

Where does this leave distribution utility systems? It would be inadvisable to look around and say “that won’t happen to us” simply because we know that the need for electricity will never go away. The delivery system and their source might.

I don’t have a crystal ball. Everything I know about energy distribution will change in 25 years. If I had to take a wild guess, these are the things I think we’ll see in the future of a utility:

  • A distribution grid that heals itself.
  • Rapidly changing technology involving the way we heat and cool our homes and electric cars.
  • Moving away from centralized power plants thanks to the pursuit of renewables and microgrid options.
  • Lastly, smart meters will give the utilities and their customers more control. Customers will begin exercising that control and realize personal benefits.

Looking at those four possibilities takes the utility’s responsibility to provide reliable, cost effective power to an all-time high. It’s a challenge we must accept – and we must be sure our customers understand that we “get it” and we’re here to be their partner in all of it.

So, what is Dawson PPD doing to meet these industry changes? We’ve installed an advanced metering system, commonly referred to as a “smart” meter. These meters provide daily information for both us and the customer to see how many kilowatt hours each service is using.

Our meters also communicate through a secure RF mesh network, so information is relayed in a timely fashion back to the main office. This network allows us to be “self-healing,” because the meters find various routes to share information back to the office. Think of our communications network as roots on a tree. Just because a section of the root is cut off, doesn’t mean that the tree can’t still pull water and nutrients from the ground through its other roots.

A project budgeted for 2018 with an expected completion date of 2019 includes upgrading the load management switches to incorporate them into this mesh network. This move will strengthen our equipment communications and provide more data for the customer.

Another project currently in the works is the deployment of a Distribution Automation network. The DA Network allows computer software to view and control equipment on our power lines. This enhances our “smart” grid and brings us more information to better understand our system and how we can adjust it to meet our customers’ needs.

Of course, these changes cost money. We are steadily implementing these changes to keep our rates affordable while ensuring that our system is up-to-date and prepared for whatever direction the industry takes.

September 2017

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