Energy and utility executives usually describe their toughest challenges as the ones thrown at them by Mother Nature. But the blackout in the Northeast in August was a reminder that they can't take anything for granted.
While the cause of the massive outage is still under investigation, Diane Bunch, senior VP of IS at the Tennessee Valley Authority, says preventing blackouts or reacting to them effectively depends on timely information. Many utilities use subsystem-control and data-acquisition systems to monitor large parts of the electrical grid. While there will be growing pressure to improve those systems in the wake of the blackout, Bunch predicts that most utility infrastructure investments still will be based on demand for power and profitability and on what Mother Nature throws at them.
A devastating ice storm last December affected around a million and a half people, says Cecil Smith, CIO at Duke Energy Corp. Duke prides itself on technology that lets it give customers accurate restoration times after an outage.
"Two to four hours is something people deal with, but two to four days changes lives," Smith says. "And many people want to talk to a person."
Ice storms aren't uncommon in many parts of the country, and utilities have to plan for them, says Ray Johnson, CIO at Entergy Corp. "It's not unusual for ice storms to put peak pressure on our outage-management and workload-management systems."
Floods are also a factor. The Tennessee River System, the fifth-largest river system in the country, faced its second-worst flood last winter. "Automated systems told us when to let water in or keep it out, and divert it to reservoirs where it would do the least amount of damage," Bunch says.
Still, all three utilities kept their business-technology projects on schedule. Duke deployed a Web-based system that lets its large customers access energy alerts. It also implemented a supply-
chain application for its suppliers. Entergy retooled its internal financial systems. TVA upgraded 4,000 desktop systems to Windows XP and created a software repository to get rid of a lot of paper.
|Rank||Company||Revenue in millions||Income (loss)
|41||Duke Energy Corp.||$15,663||$1,034||1,648|
|79||People's Energy Corp.||$1,483||$89||183|
|114||Progress Energy Inc.||$7,945||$528||780|
|137||Tennessee Valley Authority||$6,835||$73||683|
|150||Alliant Energy Corp.||$2,609||$107||223|
|183||Pinnacle West Capital Corp.||$2,637||$150||416|
|227||Occidental Petroleum Corp.||$7,338||$989||370|
|233||Amerada Hess Corp.||$11,932||($218)||240|
|356||Pacific Gas & Electric Co.||$10,462||--||1,200|
|366||Great Plains Energy Inc.||$1,010||$103||146|
|391||CMS Energy Corp.||$8,687||($620)||474|
|409||Peabody Energy Corp.||$2,717||$106||71|
|452||Truman Arnold Co.||--||--||--|
|472||AGL Resources Inc||--||--||--|
|474||Consol Energy Inc.||$2,183||$12||145|
|489||Enterprise Products Partners LLP||$3,585||$96||--|
|495||American Water Works Association||--||--||--|
|Financial data is from
public sources and company supplied.
Revenue is for latest fiscal year.
Employee data is from InformationWeek 500 qualifying survey.