Outages, Voltage, and the Utility Support Desk

ETSA, the Electricity Trust of South Australia, receives 600,000 telephone contacts per year. Multiply by 15 for the rest of Australia, at say $10/call, and ignoring the lost productivity, that adds up to $100m per year.

There is no breakdown of these (bill queries, service issues etc) on the site, so we can only guess at what is really going on in terms of customer relations. The only stats I could find is that service issues (no power!) amount to 150 minutes per year per customer.

But given that no utility has visibility below the substation, and all rely on customer complaints to identify outages, it is likely that a good many of these calls relate to “the power is off”. In many cases, it takes hours to identify the cause.

WattWatcher devices deal with the “Information Asymmetery problem” and will provide automated outage data. Unfortunately, they will also provide power quality data and identify when the voltage is out of range. Which will probably INCREASE the number of complaints. It is generally thought that the voltage is regularly out of range for 10% of consumers. Too close to the substation and you can see 270V plus. Too far, and the voltage is too low. And of course high voltage means higher power. And of course the higher voltage is required at times of high demand, exacerbating the peak problem.

And nothing is being said about the transition from 240VAC to 230VAC. More on this later.

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