PSU and PSNH Partner to ‘Keep the Lights On’

May 30th, 2006 by Adam

While weather-related power outages may be unavoidable in New Hampshire, Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) believes they can be minimized, and the utility has partnered with meteorologists at Plymouth State University (PSU) to develop a Web-based application that is expected to help in the prediction and planning for when and where power outages may occur.

“The tool developed by our Plymouth State partners presents a customized view of the weather as it relates to our various Area Work Centers around the state,” said Paula Vincent, PSNH’s customer operations support supervisor. “It will be very useful when monitoring weather conditions. By understanding the potential impact of anticipated weather we can be best prepared for our emergency response during outage events.”

The final development of the Web application is the culmination of a two-phase project which PSNH and PSU began in 2004. “Phase one of the project pinpointed various weather systems that have resulted in power outages over the last 10 years,” noted Dr. Eric Hoffman, PSU assistant professor of meteorology, who is overseeing the project. “We sought to determine if there were any common, forecastable characteristics that would enable PSNH to make strategic operational decisions prior to or during a significant weather event.”

Michael Nahmias, who graduated from PSU in 2005, completed the research as part of his senior project, identifying four types of weather events as having the potential to lead to power outages: wind; winter storms with heavy, wet snows of six to 10 inches of accumulation; summer thunderstorms; and heat waves during which the demand for electricity is extremely high and the electrical distribution system is stressed.

“The results were somewhat surprising,” said Hoffman. “During winter, it is not the steady wind or blizzard that leads to potential major power outages, rather it is a winter precipitation event where the average temperature is between 28 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in the accumulation of wet heavy snow.” The research also showed that wind storms that cause outages are those with strong winds of greater than 18 miles per hour across the state and gusts higher than about 40 mph., and that the greatest number of such wind events occur in the early fall and late spring.

In phase two of the project, Bridget Bixby, a senior meteorology major from Warren, matched the research data with real-time weather data to develop the integrated Web-based decision tool that PSNH can use to enhance its level of readiness.

“By asking a series of questions that compares current weather and forecast data and matches it up with the historical research data, the tool provides PSNH with a better idea of the potential for a weather event that might lead to power outages,” says Hoffman. “It puts all the information in one place and provides answers to their questions.”

“The Web-based tool includes a variety of information in one place, providing quick access to a host of information,” noted Vincent. “It can be used by our management team to make emergency response decisions, and by our area work center managers to make critical operational decisions that affect their service areas. It is very intuitive and easy to use.”

“I’ve learned that weather has a lot more application than just forecasting,” said Bixby, noting that, for her, the project helped put theory into practice. “It affects everybody, and this has allowed me to develop a meteorological tool that will be used to impact their operations.”

Plymouth State University (PSU) is a regional comprehensive university offering a rich, student-focused learning environment for both undergraduate and graduate students. PSU offers 42 majors and 62 minors in programs that include education, business, humanities, arts, and natural and social sciences. The College of Graduate Studies offers coursework that promotes research, best practices and reflection in locations on- and off-campus as well as online. For non-traditional students, PSU’s Frost School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers working professionals opportunities to pursue an undergraduate degree by attending classes in the evenings, weekends and online. Located in a beautiful New England setting, Plymouth State University has been recognized as one of the “Best in the Northeast” by The Princeton Review.

PSNH is New Hampshire’s largest electric utility, generating and distributing clean electricity for more than 475,000 homes and businesses in an environmentally friendly manner. Each year, PSNH supports dozens of forest protection, energy conservation and environmental organizations through both financial contributions and generous employee volunteerism. PSNH is proud if its commitment to the environment and willingness to create innovative solutions to environmental issues.