A National Grid and Earth Networks collaboration made it easier for United States Postal Service workers in New England last winter to adhere to their motto: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. In theory, that is. The innovative vendor-relationship-turned-alliance won them the ASAP Individual Alliance Excellence Award at the March ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Orlando, Florida.
Utility National Grid needed a better way to determine where electric asset damages could occur before a storm hit its service territory in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. The utility developed an industry-leading predictive storm damage model with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and purchased the historical weather data for the model from Earth Networks. The companies partnered in 2013 to create additional weather stations in areas where they did not exist, and National Grid donated 55 stations to police and fire departments and local schools. In addition to creating a unique math and science teaching tool for children, the initiative program provides town emergency personnel with local information to determine whether to sand roads, cancel school or sporting events, and/or determine the location of dangerous squalls or lightening in the area.
“As severe weather becomes more and more common in our communities, access to real-time, local weather information is increasingly important for preparation and response to major storms and emergency events,” explains Eliza Davis, lead program manager of alliance and vendor strategy at National Grid. “The weather station data serves as another source of on-the-ground information as National Grid teams decide where to place utility crews and assets. The data also helps towns decide when it is safe to send police and fire crews to respond to emergencies and outages.”
Over a 20-year period, Earth Networks has grown a labyrinth of 10,000 weather stations worldwide, each of which provides data every two seconds. “This data and all historical weather data from the stations are being fed into the predictive storm damage model to better understand how specific weather attributes contribute to asset damages. Overall, the WeatherBug weather data has driven a 50 percent improvement in the accuracy of the model,” says Davis.
For Earth Networks, the collaboration is both financially and educationally beneficial—not only for local school children but for its meteorologists. “The collaboration gave them the ability to see more of the widespread winds and precipitation in the New England region, especially in upstate New York, where there are very few weather stations. Some 24 new weather stations were installed in New York as part of the collaboration,” says meteorologist Dennis Stewart, senior account executive of energy solutions at Earth Networks-WeatherBug. “Meteorology is all about data. The increase in the collective data has helped significantly with forecasting severe weather and has been proactive in storm preparations with disasters,” which sometimes involves federal agencies.
Community members can download the free WeatherBug app on their phones to access their town’s current weather conditions, forecasts, emergency notifications, and even pinpoint local lightning strikes. Many of these towns previously relied on weather data from 20 miles away.
“The utility industry faces significant challenges as we plan for the effects of increasingly severe weather on the assets that deliver power to our customers,” Davis points out. “In addition, regulators and stakeholders are encouraging utilities to collaborate with other companies in the energy service industry to animate markets, achieve efficiencies, create new revenue opportunities, and deliver greater value to our customers. Through the WeatherBug Initiative, National Grid is leading the effort to improve storm preparation and response while demonstrating our ability to partner for the benefit of our customers and the utility industry.”