Addressing the risks associated with telecommunication carrier changes and developing a digital platform to serve as the foundation for future grid modernization efforts.

The Challenge 

A digital transformation 

Telecommunications carriers are retiring legacy copper services that provide connectivity for critical utility applications (teleprotection, SCADA, and enterprise voice and data). The carriers are already executing roadmaps to retire analog services on the east coast, and plans are being finalized across the country. The utility faced increasing telecom costs and thousands of devices reliant on “end-of-life” technologies. Loss of connectivity to those devices would destabilize the gird resulting in additional outages and unsafe operating conditions. 

Although carriers are required to offer alternative options, they did not provide enough notification for the utility to perform the upgrades necessary to maintain analog device compatibility with the digital alternatives. Since replacement solutions were not a true “like-for-like” swap, site preparation was required to install new infrastructure, maintain grounding specifications, and power new devices. The utility found themselves unprepared to reactively upgrade their connections when carriers announced their migrations. Additionally, carrier alternatives cost three to four times more than legacy connections—millions of dollars in O&M risk.

The Solution

Proactively assess risk to the business and perform upgrades 

West Monroe assessed the business risk by evaluating telecom bills and correlating connections to utility applications. Over 3,000 connections were evaluated at each operating company. After the correlation, existing utility networks were assessed to identify high-level replacement technology architectures for each location. West Monroe recommended optimized solutions for each location and developed a business case to request funding for the multi-year network deployment to proactively address legacy carrier connections. 

Once funding was approved, West Monroe established a centralized project management office to deploy new infrastructure and provide governance over the communications request process. Privately owned wired and wireless technologies were deployed across the service territory over a five-year period to replace connections to real-time devices. The project team managed the infrastructure deployment and validated the removal of charges from carriers across the multi-state service territories. Private infrastructure was deployed at two operating companies to upgrade connections ahead of wire center retirements.

The Impact 

Enhanced network and significant O&M savings

The utility realized value during each phase of the project. The assessment phase uncovered over $1.5M dollars in savings across two operating companies without any infrastructure upgrades. During the assessments, West Monroe identified several opportunities to disconnect inactive or unused connections. Some connections weren’t used for the last five years and billed thousands of dollars per month. These ‘low hanging fruit’ inventory items were disconnected and immediately saved the company over $410K annually at one operating company and over $1.1M at another operating company. 

The deployment phase brought new infrastructure to 220 substations and 30 office buildings. This infrastructure led to the migration of 2,100 connections for the utility’s real-time, SCADA, teleprotection, enterprise, and security networks which achieved a total savings of $8M annually after the initial investment and the multi-year deployment.

Additional benefits of the deployment included a digital, IP-enabled, real-time network, increased bandwidth, improved reliability, quicker response time, and more flexibility than the legacy carrier networks. The deployment team drove standardization of technologies across operating companies and created a governance process to monitor and control new connection requests.

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