Digitally Transforming the Way Electric Transmission Companies Store Facility Ratings

A major utility needed to modernize the way they stored facility ratings. Our team reimagined their facility ratings management application to reduce the risk of human error, while providing more granular data, detailed history, easy data comparisons, streamlined workflows, and better visibility into their data; all wrapped in an intuitive and usable interface.

The resulting facility ratings system not only simplifies work for the ratings engineers, but also enables this utility company to plan more efficiently by providing a way to associate sets of ratings changes with particular projects, share equipment between facilities, view and compare historical ratings, and streamline peer reviews.

The Backstory: A Brief Overview of Facility Ratings

The power grid is a highly complex network of connected systems that transports electricity from generation sources to our homes and businesses.

The physical infrastructure of equipment (including transmission lines, substations, transformers, circuit breakers, and more) are divided into what the industry calls facilities.

Electric transmission companies like our client are required to rate how much current a facility can safely handle and make these ratings (and the methodologies for acquiring them) available to regulators.

Each piece of equipment in the system must be given a rating, and there can be hundreds of pieces of equipment in any given facility.

The piece of equipment with the lowest rating in a facility is called the most limiting element (MLE), and thus determines the overall facility rating.

Occasionally the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) changes the methodology that generation and transmission owners must use to determine their facility ratings. In December of 2021, FERC Order 881 was issued. This order requires transmission companies to report ambient-adjusted ratings in 5 degree increments, every hour, for all of their facilities. This is a big change that every utility is going to need to address.

These kinds of changing requirements demanded that the facility ratings management application was flexible enough to keep up with the changing ratings landscape.

The Challenge: Eliminating the Potential for Human Error

This major utility’s former facility ratings management application had served them well, but was starting to show its age.

For starters, it wasn’t able to store equipment at the granularity that they now needed, which meant manual calculations had to be performed by engineers before they put values into the system.

Secondly, branches—which are the various pathways through which electricity is transported—are shared in many common scenarios. If a piece of equipment in a shared branch needed a ratings change, it would need to be updated in multiple places in the old system.

Making those changes could be time consuming and error prone, requiring a large amount of careful diligence and communication. The old system also didn’t provide much in terms of data validation. If an engineer or technician made a keying error while entering data, they had to rely on a peer review to catch it.

All of these nuances in functionality opened the door for extra effort and possible human error. Peer reviews were in place to maintain data integrity, but there was no automated process to submit recently changed data for review and to see exactly what had changed.

Every utility has a mandate from FERC to accurately track their facility ratings.

It is a critical process that ensures utilities know exactly what is in their networks, and allows the systems that monitor the grid in real-time to accurately function.

The Strategy: Transform the Facility Ratings Application

Research is the foundation of everything we do at Simple Thread. And so before we dove in, we set out to truly understand the people and the ecosystem in which this application was being used. From there we could start to understand the needs of the different teams and stakeholder involved.

Together, we not only created requirements for the application, but a set of full fidelity mockups that allowed us to validate the design before we ever wrote a single line of code. Here are a few high level requirements we started with:

The Outcome: Empowered for the Future

Cross validation of the new facility ratings management application is going positively. 

The new facility ratings management application stores equipment at higher granularity. Because the equipment is one-to-one with what is in the field, it reduces the manual effort and calculations that must be performed before a facilities rating can be calculated. This reduces the risk of human error. Additionally, each physical piece of equipment is modeled only once in the system, so engineers need to only make changes in a single place and can easily see every facility it affects.

The system also knows the typical ranges for ratings and will alert engineers if they enter an unusual value that falls outside of these ranges. This reduces the likelihood of mistakes, and for another layer of security, peer reviews are also now captured in the system. The peer-reviewing engineer is shown a comparison view of all changes, and must approve them before they can be activated.

Furthermore, for auditing purposes, historical data is stored allowing for easy access to each facility’s history.

“Simple Thread has incredibly talented technical capabilities. Their secret sauce is the way they do discovery, it’s the differentiating factor for companies like ours. They really don’t miss a beat at all.”

– Manager, Electric Transmission, A Major Utility Company

To put it simply, the new facility ratings application changes the way people work. It stores ratings as they currently exist on the grid, how they existed in the past, and what they will look like in the future.