Outages are at best a bad customer experience and at worst a life-threatening event for people relying on electronic medical equipment. And if an electric utility doesn’t have smart meters (also called advanced metering infrastructure or AMI), they typically rely on customer reporting, which can be slow and may not show the full extent of the problem. Luckily there’s a convenient solution: implementing Copper Labs’s detectors that use existing drive-by meters (also called automated meter reading or AMR) to detect outages in real time.

In June, Copper Labs received a new patent (its fifth to date!) for the use of AMR technology for outage detection. This approach enables utilities to get nearly real-time data from legacy meters to detect outages, instead of relying on customers reporting outages via phone call or mobile phone, and is quicker, cheaper, and easier to implement than installing new smart meters. For electric utilities with legacy meters, that means an improved customer experience, lives saved, and more resilient and equitable energy infrastructure for everyone.


How outage detection helps make energy more equitable

Detecting outages more quickly and easily has always been appealing for utilities. But climate change and an increase in attacks on our power infrastructure make it more important than ever to address outages as quickly as possible.

As climate change advances we’re already seeing an increase in storm severity, and a growing body of research suggests that the energy impacts from those storms can exacerbate existing inequities. For example, according to research published in the journal Nature Communications in April 2023, power outages caused by storms are most concentrated in four regions in the US: Louisiana, Arkansas, central Alabama, and northern Michigan. Because of other social factors, these regions are also most at risk of major impacts from longer blackouts. Specifically, these areas have a lot of residents with medical equipment that relies on electricity to run. So implementing solutions to more quickly and accurately detect outages from a storm can reduce the chances of people with medical equipment experiencing problems and make for a more equitable power infrastructure. For more information about the storm-related outage research, see the Washington Post article Power outages hit some communities harder and more often, study says.

Climate change-driven storms aren’t the only cause of outages. Physical attacks on power infrastructure are also a threat to energy reliability, and the frequency of such events has been increasing over the past few years. According to the National Conference of State Legislature’s Human-Driven Physical Threats to Energy Infrastructure report, “In 2022, at least 25 reports were filed under the ‘actual physical attacks’ criteria—as opposed to threats or suspicious behavior—compared to only six in 2021 …” While reports filed under “actual physical attacks” vary and not all of them resulted in an outage, the increase in attacks is still reason for concern. By detecting outages sooner and with improved reporting granularity, we can help increase system resilience in the face of potential attacks to our energy infrastructure.


What’s next?

Copper Labs is working on an innovative new project with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to detect outages and automatically restore them. NREL will install the Copper Labs hardware at 20 sites in rural locations to demonstrate the effectiveness of the technology at detecting outages and identifying resources available to restore power. For more details, see the Utility Dive article NREL to test real-time utility meter data as resilience solution amid rising renewable energy adoption.