Berkeley Lab releases guidebook, online tool on power outage costs

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As part of a public-private partnership with Nexant Inc., Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently released a guidebook and an updated online tool to help utility staff measure the costs and effects of power outages for customers.

The guidebook — “Estimating Power System Interruption Costs: A Guidebook for Electric Utilities” — and the online Interruption Cost Estimate, or ICE, Calculator tool were both funded by the Transmission Permitting and Technical Assistance Division, or TPTA, within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity.

“We are focused on providing leadership on a national level to help modernize the grid,” said Katie Jereza, the TPTA’s deputy assistant secretary. “Our office helps to provide the tools … (and) provide guidement books because the tools can be complicated.”

The guidebook describes common, economically efficient strategies for improving reliability and techniques for conducting customer interruption cost, or CIC, studies.

“This guidebook has now been updated to help utilities conduct surveys using state-of-the-art technologies and methods,” said Peter Larsen, one of the guidebook’s authors and assistant group leader of the Electricity Markets and Policy Group at Berkeley Lab.

According to the guidebook’s executive summary, the book is intended to be used as a reference for utility personnel and policymakers, as well as experts in survey design and administration, when implementing CIC estimates.

Accurate approximations of the costs of power outages enable utility companies and regulators “to assess the benefits to customers from new investments that modernize and secure the grid,” according to the Office of Electricity’s website.

“In order to properly value (a) proposed investment … we need to have an idea of how much power outages cost us in the first place,” Larsen said.

Additionally, the ICE Calculator enables users to approximate the cost of outages and value of reliability improvements with this tool, using factors such as location and number of customers.

“We know of no other online tool that estimates the cost of power interruption,” Larsen said.

Compared to the first version of the tool, which was released in 2011, the updated ICE Calculator is more user-friendly, able to save and download results into commonly used formats and able to incorporate updates to the original data, according to the Office of Electricity’s website.

For the future, the Office of Electricity is evaluating enhancements to the ICE Calculator that would improve the accuracy of CIC estimates and allow for CIC estimates for outages lasting longer than 24 hours, according to its website.

Utility companies such as the Potomac Electric Power Company, Electric Power Board of Chattanooga and the Central Maine Power Company have already started used the ICE Calculator, according to the Office of Electricity’s website.

“We try to put out materials that are both useful to the private sector … and public sector,” Larsen said.

Contact Aarya Gupta at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @aaryapgupta.