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The ThinkEnergy podcast features conversations that focus on the fast-changing world of energy. We explore through a communications lens, some of the coolest trends, emerging technologies and latest innovations within the energy sector. We seek to understand how these game changers bring their ideas to market and demystify their concepts.

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Sep 13, 2021

Storm season is truly any season. And during a global pandemic, as we've become more dependent on an uninterrupted supply of electricity (so we can work and learn from home), the consequences of storm-related power outages have been heightened. So here's today's big question: How are utilities facing the eye of the storm? What's involved during these critical times to keep the system and people protected from outages? To answer these questions today, we have the Director of System Operations & Grid Automation, who leads all restoration efforts for Hydro Ottawa: Joseph Muglia.

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Transcript:

Dan Seguin  00:02

Hey everyone, I'm Dan Seguin.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  00:04

And I'm Rebecca Schwartz, both from hydro Ottawa.

 

Dan Seguin  00:07

And we'll be hosting the ThinkEnergy podcast. So are you looking to better understand the fast changing world of energy? Every two weeks, Rebecca and I will be taking you on a tour and discuss some of the coolest trends, emerging technologies, and latest innovations within the energy sector

 

Rebecca Schwartz  00:26

We'll be engaging in great conversations with game changers, thought leaders and industry leaders who welcome the opportunity to share their expertise and views with you, our listeners.

 

Dan Seguin  00:37

So stay tuned as we explore some traditional and some quirky facets of this industry. This is the ThinkEnergy podcast. Hey, everyone, welcome back to the ThinkEnergy podcast. I'm Dan Seguin. We're going to do things a bit differently today. Instead of our regularly scheduled program, I'd like to introduce my new co-host, hydro Ottawa's very own social media guru, and content and communications planning officer. Rebecca Schwartz.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  01:12

Hi, Dan. Hi, everyone.

 

Dan Seguin  01:14

Rebecca, welcome to your first episode. As a co host of the think energy podcast. Maybe you can introduce yourself to our audience, and what drew you to the energy sector?

 

Rebecca Schwartz  01:26

Thanks, Dan. I'm super excited to be joining the ThinkEnergy podcast for my first podcast ever. as Dan said, I manage hydro Ottawa as social media platforms. But what a nice change to be able to talk to you all in a little bit more of a personal way today. What drew me to the energy sector has to be the fact that everyone uses energy. It's meaningful to work in a sector that influences everyone in such a powerful way. Pun intended. When the lights go out, I'm reminded of just how connected we all are sharing the same grid and enduring outages together. It makes me feel like I'm part of something big, especially when I can communicate important updates to customers during these times. In general, though, with increasing environmental concerns and plenty of innovative technologies being developed, it's an exciting time for the energy sector. It keeps my job interesting and challenging.

 

Dan Seguin  02:18

Rebecca and I are going to co host episodes going forward. Think of dynamic duos like Laurel and Hardy. Fred and ginger Mulder and Scully.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  02:31

Ummm I don't know any of those people.

 

Dan Seguin  02:33

Okay, how about Jay Z and Beyonce, Mary Kate and Ashley, Brock and Michelle? Ah,

 

Rebecca Schwartz  02:40

yes. Okay. I promise to brush up on my Dynamic Duo history.

 

Dan Seguin  02:45

The title of this week's episode is "the eye of the storm", Rebecca. I don't know if it's just me. But it seems like every season is storm season. Nowadays, in Ottawa, we've had more than our fair share of winter ice storms, spring floods, and in the fall of 2018 tornadoes.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  03:04

Well, warm weather and summer sunshine tend to give us a false sense of security from power outages. But the truth is summer storms are a consistent threat, thanks to extreme heat and humidity, particularly when that combination manifests into dangerous heat waves, lightning, strong winds, hail and thunderstorms. Mother Nature doesn't seem to differentiate anymore between when storm season begins and ends anymore. It's like she's thrown up her hands justifiably annoyed with us about climate change, which means utilities must always be prepared for any extreme weather event no matter the time of year.

 

Dan Seguin  03:43

storm season is truly any season. And during a global pandemic, as we've become more dependent on an uninterrupted supply of electricity so we can work and learn from home, the consequences of storm related power outages has been heightened. So here's today's big question. How are utilities facing the eye of the storm? What's involved during these critical times to keep the system and people protected from outages?

 

Rebecca Schwartz  04:15

To answer these questions today, I have director of system operations and grid automation, who leads all restoration efforts for the capitals utility. Hydro Ottawa's Joseph Muglia.

 

Dan Seguin  04:29

Hey, welcome, Joseph. It's great to speak to you again. I think a lot of people want to know what it takes to keep the lights on for a city like Ottawa. Given your role, I'm assuming you've been in the office and in the field throughout the pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what the director of systems operations and grid automation does?

 

Joseph Muglia  04:53

Thanks for having me, Dan. So first of all, my role is really comprised of three different groups within the within the company with, I would say four areas of responsibility. So starting off, like, in my team, I've got the substation group, which takes power from our provincial supplier and basically helps to distribute that power across the city through the wires and things but, but the substations are the main points where the power is coming from into our different communities. The second very important group within my team is system operations and system office. So system office really is, I would say, the control group. So they're taking the power that comes from the substations and, and distributing it properly across the city through the lines. So basically, they have the control of like limiting power, they can shut power off in certain areas, if we have to work on wires, they're doing that control of the flow of electrons throughout the system. So in an emergency, they can do isolation so that our crews can work safely. If there's any sort of power outage that's required, like a planned power outage, they can do that, so that we can work safely and upgrade our equipment. So that's really the role of system office, system office and system operations. They're also part of system operations is also our 24/7, and emergency response as well as our field ops. So they're really monitoring the system on a 24 hour, seven day a week basis. So if there's any issues that go on at nighttime, while people are sleeping, if there's a storm that hits during the day, or at night, or on the weekends, it's our 24/7, and our field operators that are responding to those calls. Initially, especially now if the call gets more involved, we we usually bring in additional forces, but it's really the 24/7 folks that are out responding. And finally, the third part of of my team is the metering group. So really, they're they're the folks that are distributing the power to our individual customers, every single customer in the in our service territory is involved with the metering group. So whether it's commercial, industrial, institutional, doesn't matter. Our metering group are the ones that that interface with our customers.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  07:25

So Joseph, let's talk about the pandemic that shall not be named, shall we? Sorry, huge Harry Potter fan here. So what kinds of things have you and your team been doing to keep power flowing through homes and businesses during the pandemic? Was there more stress knowing just how much more people relied on it to stay connected?

 

Joseph Muglia  07:45

So that's a good question. So, you know, typically, pre pandemic, we know where work centers are, we know where the offices are, throughout the city. And, and so we can sort of focus our efforts to make sure that those areas that are, you know, largely populated with folks that are working, that power is not interrupted as much as possible. The problem with the pandemic was that the entire city became work centers. So all of the homes became work centers, in addition to a lot of the work centers that already existed. So now what happened was, the emphasis went to keeping everybody connected as much as possible all the time. Because now you're not just affecting the offices of Hydro Ottawa, but you're affecting the offices of Hydro Ottawa, throughout the entire city, where everybody is basically living. And that's true for all the businesses so, so this caused us to put more emphasis on our infrastructure, make sure that our infrastructure is kept up, you know, maintenance wise to make sure that we're limiting our outages, for instance, to I think we limited them to two hours maximum. And that creates like a cost and a logistics issue for sure for us, right? Because we're not taking advantage of a full day anymore, or like in a residential area where we would be doing upgrades for instance, where we could take the power out through system office, as I mentioned earlier, we can take that power out for six or eight hours now. It was you know, truncated down to just a couple of hours. So, that becomes very difficult to to make sure that our crews are working as efficiently as they can. But it was it was very limiting for us from a from a construction perspective. So, yeah, definitely more pressure again on the focus of our assets and the focus of our our construction crews may Making sure that they're staying busy and doingas effective work as possible throughout the day,

 

Dan Seguin  10:05

It seems like storm season is every season now, what kind of emergency preparedness planning or training goes on, in order to be crisis ready for any storm?

 

Joseph Muglia  10:17

At hydro Ottawa, we regularly keep our folks up to date with all of the training required on a day to day basis for their jobs. In addition, storm preparation involves more like training on, I guess, tabletop exercises and mocking different disasters that could potentially happen. So we've introduced that into our training as well, which we're putting a lot more of our folks through that training now. Because some things that were that have been identified to us was that we've got this core group of people that are well trained in that, but we need to expand that team so that we've got additional resources in you know, that can that can respond to different emergencies. So we're working on a training schedule now thatwill encompass the entire year, that will, at regular intervals, train different folks across the organization to be able to respond to these types of things. In addition to that, also at the contractor and the supplier level, we have to maintain good relationships with them, and relationships that we wouldn't normally have in the past, or we may not have had in the past. So we've got better, I think, better relationships, working relationships with folks that can deliver us materials or provide assistance, whether it's mutual aid assistance, or contracted forces that can come in and help us in the event that we need the help. Like if we've been hit with a big emergency or a big incident across the city where we've got more work to do than our crews can handle. For instance,

 

Rebecca Schwartz  12:06

Working for Hydro Ottawa's social media team, I know just how important communication is, from sharing our storm readiness to providing information when an outage happens, it's caused status and Restoration Times. So Joseph, what goes into establishing accurate Restoration Times? Is it based on historical data?

 

Joseph Muglia  12:27

So Restoration Times are a very difficult thing. And I don't care what utility you're involved with. But restoration time is really one of those things that continues to be a challenge year after year. Initially, when we see an issue on a feeder or a conductor somewhere, the initial restoration time is generated through historical data that we would have. And that data is based on what we think the issue might be. And again, it's from our system office folks that will see you know, a particular type of issue that they're seeing on the system and the historical data will give an approximate time of restoration. Now, nothing beats a field visit, right? So that initial restoration time will be generated automatically. And then, in the meantime, we've got crews that are dispatched and are on the way to whatever the issue is in the field, once they get there, they're able to better assess what's involved. So when they get there, it might be completely different than what you know, our historical data was telling us or what system office was seeing in the field. And so the field crews are then able to better approximate what the restoration time will be. And then as the restoration is proceeding, there could be other factors that are that come into it and affect restoration time again, and which is sometimes why you see a restoration time getting shorter or longer because it you know, there might be other equipment in the field that we didn't initially know was going to be included. And ends up being included in the restoration as well. So it's a very tricky art, I would say not much of a science. It's more of an art.

 

Dan Seguin  14:24

Joseph, you've done some videos for us. And most recently you did one about our outage map. How is the map valuable and what other service offerings might be coming down the wire?

 

Joseph Muglia  14:37

Yeah, so first of all the outage map is is definitely an excellent tool. I think it keeps our our customers and our communities up to speed on what's going on when there is an outage. And so it's it's an extremely valuable tool for people to use to to make sure that you know they're they're being kept up to date. with what's happening with a particular outage going on in their area. In addition, now, you mentioned the battery programs. So this is something new that we started just in the past year, where if there's an extended planned outage that we're looking at it for a certain neighborhood, we're able to actually lend out some chargeable batteries. It's sort of a unit that has a number of different plugs that are involved in receptacles, and things where people can, for a period of time have some power available to them, you know, while their power is out, and while we're working on the equipment that supplies their home, so I think it's a great opportunity for folks to take advantage of that. We're still working some of the details behind it. But it's been it's been a great success. So far, we've had nothing but fantastic feedback on that program. So basically, if we know there's an outage in your area, we will offer you a battery. And people can keep their electronics and certain other things charged while their power is out. So I think that's, that's very innovative and very forward thinking. SMS. So we've got, we've got text to your phone right now, during a planned outage, we can let you know, through text messaging that there will be a plan power outage, you know, in your in your neighborhood. So that's also been working well. And we're also working toward, although we're not there yet, but more text messaging and notifications in the event of an unplanned outage as well. So I think that's probably something that people are dying to have. And I know there's a lot of work in the background, believe it or not to get it there. But we are working on that that's on our roadmap. And we're looking at having that available to our customers soon. So stay tuned for that.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  17:02

When an outage happens, can you tell us how and why people should report it and what happens after they do?

 

Joseph Muglia  17:10

So reporting an outage is extremely important, not just for the individual to let us know that we know there's a power outage. So like sometimes the power, if someone experiences a power outage, it could be their own equipment, it could be a broader issue, you know, on their street, or it could be their their whole subdivision, for instance, or the area. So it's important to let us know as soon as possible, I would say 80 or 90% of the time, we know when people are calling in that there's a power outage. But again, if it's a localized thing, and it's just their particular address, or just their street, it may take us a bit more time. before we're aware of that. So any call that comes in, we begin to build like a grid to so that we know like okay, we've got a call here we've got a call in that area. And it starts to build a bigger picture. And it helps us to determine what's going on. Right. So very important that people are calling in. It's important again, for the customer, it's important for their neighbors as well, right. And it's important for us, because it helps us get on the situation as quickly as possible. People can call through the website, hydroottawa.com they can go through Facebook, they can call our outage hotline at 613-738-0188. Certainly any of those avenues, the information will get to us and we can start processing and figuring out what the issue is so that we can look to restoration.

 

Dan Seguin  18:49

I'm going to knock on wood right now. But say a major summer storm hits the city, causing mass blackouts. How do you decide who gets restored first and why?

 

Joseph Muglia  19:02

So from an institutional perspective, like it's great to get the hospitals on the big government offices on as quickly as possible. After that, and I mean, the hospitals generally have generator backups. So that's been less of a concern than perhaps in the past. But I know there are some big grocery chains also that have battery have generation of backup generation. So that's awesome as well. But really, what we look at is trying to determine, you know, where we can get the biggest bang for our buck. So what what can we do from a system office perspective in conjunction with what's going on in the field to bring up as as many customers as possible, as long as it's being done safely. Right. So so we'll look to to see across the board, what makes the most sense to get As many customers as possible up, then from there, once we get the bigger pockets resolved and their backup, then we start working our way to the smaller and smaller areas. There are times when we have to actually increase the size of an outage in order to resolve it. That happens once in a while as well. And sometimes people will experience their power come back, and then they'll lose power for a period of time again, because we've had to isolate different areas in order to do a fix so that we can bring up the entire area. So that's, you know, that's often what happens. And I know people probably don't understand that. But I think it's an important point to bring up because sometimes you may experience another shorter outage after your power has been restored. And that's because we've had to do that in order to bring up the you know, the, the bigger section that might have been out.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  21:03

So Joseph, tell us what's been the biggest crisis or emergency that you've experienced in your role? And what did you learn from it?

 

Joseph Muglia  21:12

There's really been two in my career, I think, while it's been more than that, but two that stick out in my head. And that is, prior to having this role. I was in Alberta. And in 2013, we had flooding in Alberta, that was that blew my mind, to the point where the South Saskatchewan River was flowing through the city I was living in, and the water level was about a foot or two away from the banks of the bridge, that would have basically separate the city in two halves for a number of months. So that was that blew my mind. The second one was in 2018, the tornadoes here in Ottawa, which was I know, like we talked about it, probably less now, but that's still, you know, very, very much burned in my, in my mind, what we went through through those tornadoes. I may sound a bit cliche here, but I think that teamwork perspective, is probably the thing that I learned the most out of both of those issues, and not just teamwork for the folks on the ground that were actually doing the work that needed to be done the restoration. And I think, you know, largely about the restoration that went on here in the city during the tornadoes, but really like from from the perspective of our crisis communication team, our communication, you know, the basically the team that you folks are are involved with, that was hugely important to get the messaging out properly and clearly and efficiently. All of the management staff that went into the coordination and the logistics of getting materials to us of keeping you know, the the crews busy the fleet perspective of that restoration, just keeping the vehicles running, all while we had like power outages going on all over the place. We also had dips in our communication, like, we started to lose cell phones, I remember early on in the tornadoes as well. So for our IT department that posed challenges for them, but we were able to, through crisis, I think come together quickly. And and really focus on what needed to be focused on and leave sort of, you know, the the external stuff out of it. I think the most important thing is preparation ahead of time before something like that to hit again. And that's why I talked earlier about tabletop exercises and and mock disasters and going through like what the logistics look like because it's true, like as soon as you have a plan, the first casualty is the plan. Right? So if you don't know it, intuitively, you're gonna forget what the plan is. And then people scramble, right? They just naturally scramble. So the more and I know we were doing it in Alberta, too, is like the more of that training you can do up front to get people thinking about it and what's involved, the cleaner the restoration becomes. So that's probably been my biggest takeaway.

 

Dan Seguin  24:44

I've been learning that it takes a village to tackle major storms. Can you talk about the human side of your work? Who are the people and what are their roles in a crisis?

 

Joseph Muglia  24:56

There's so so many people like if I if I think about it, the frontlines, it's our 24/7 folks, it's our field operators that are the first response. Moving moving away from that, then we've got our on call, folks. So there are daily crews that go through a rotational process where if we're met with an incident during the night or on a weekend or something, there are crews that we have standing by so that they can assist with 24/7 and a bigger restoration. They are our biggest frontline defense, I think between, you know, acts of nature and keeping our folks connected. Right. So, but, and and those folks are extremely important. And, you know, God bless them, because they are there for us when we need them. And it doesn't matter the weather, it doesn't matter, you know what going on out there. They're, they're there, and they do it. But I think we also need to mention the folks that are in the office and are in our like directing stuff from the office, right. So there's our field supervisors and, and like our folks that are involved, again, with fleet, with procurement, with so many different things with finance, even our engineering and our tech folks, our GIS folks like all of them. So incredibly important when we're faced with an issue, because we need just about all of the, you know, the expertise and all of those different groups to help us sort out how we restore, particularly if we've got infrastructure that's on the ground. We need our design, folks, we need our engineering folks and our standards folks to help us, like figure out how we can best restore this in the quickest amount of time safely, so that our folks can experience you know, what they experience every day. And that's almost completely uninterrupted power, right. So, the entire team, I can't really chunk it down any more than that. And I can't say that any group is probably more important than the other because, like you said, it takes a village, right. And it really does during an incident,

 

Rebecca Schwartz  27:25

What new developments or innovations are exciting you about your job, or the industry in general right now?

 

Joseph Muglia  27:32

Early on, I mentioned my group, it can comprise of three different areas, the stations, the system operations and metering. But I didn't mention early on and I didn't get into it. The fourth piece of the fourth piece of my existence really is the automation. And so we're going through a really exciting time, as far as I'm concerned, in the electric industry, where we're we're looking at more automation in our system, building automation into the system so that we can restore power a lot faster, we can restore power remotely, rather than have, you know a crew being dispatched and going into the field. So a lot more automation within our system operations groups and groups so that more switches and more devices can be controlled within the system office rather than in the field. With automation, we can also reroute power automatically. So the system can sense a conductor or a piece of like a piece of a feeder that's out. And it can reroute power in a different area so that that restoration can happen instead of hours, it can happen in seconds. Now we're quite a ways away from that. But that's some of the stuff that we're we're moving toward. More devices in the field that will give us data that that we'll be able to use that data to make better investment choices, for instance, or, or better decisions for our customers, or having that data so that we can give that data to our customers and they can make the decisions that they want to make right. With a more automated grid, we can also introduce a lot more DERS or distributed electric resources. So more solar more wind, different ways of introducing electricity into the grid so that it helps us It helps us with reliability with with just you know volume of electricity in the future that's going to be required, right for EVs, like the introduction of EVs and the sustainment of more EV's in our system. An automated grid will help us do all of that and more right, including battery storage and things like that. So it really brings us to the next level. And the problem is that traditionally, an electric utility has been a bit more conservative like, we don't necessarily introduce a lot of technology early on, because we're needed as a very reliable source of energy. Right. And so we can't play around with too much technology until it's proven out. But we're getting to a point now where we see so much on the horizon that's available that the electric grid can can offer our customers and even other other LDCs other electric distributors, you know, there's so much that we can be doing with what we've got already. And with the introduction of a little bit more technology in the field. So I think that's by far in this industry, probably the most exciting.

 

Dan Seguin  30:57

Okay, now, how about we close off with some rapid fire questions?

 

Joseph Muglia  31:03

Okay

 

Dan Seguin  31:04

Joseph, what is your favorite word?

 

Joseph Muglia  31:08

My favorite word? I probably say, passion.

 

Dan Seguin  31:13

What is the one thing you can't live without?

 

Joseph Muglia  31:17

Probably my espresso machine.

 

Dan Seguin  31:20

Okay. What is something that challenges you?

 

Joseph Muglia  31:24

Probably the ongoing fight for my focus, right? So with like, an ever changing world there, there is like so much coming at us. And it seems like there's so many distractions to what you want to focus on. And I think that's, that's probably the biggest challenge for me is trying to stay focused on certain things when you're being bombarded.

 

Dan Seguin  31:47

Here's a good one. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

 

Joseph Muglia  31:52

I would say, if I could look into the future by about 15 minutes or so that would be the power, right? That would be awesome.

 

Dan Seguin  32:01

Okay, you've got word of a massive thunderstorm approaching Ottawa in the next few minutes. What's the first thing you do?

 

Joseph Muglia  32:09

So the first call would be to our field supervisors to hold crews back to make sure that people are not leaving too early at the end of the day and out of the parking lot too quickly because we're probably going to need them. I would say that's probably my first phone call my first thing that I'm going to do.

 

Dan Seguin  32:29

And lastly, what do you currently find most interesting in your sector,

 

Joseph Muglia  32:35

most interesting in my sector, I would say the human element of it all, is probably the most, the most challenging and the most rewarding. And I saw that a lot, particularly through the pandemic and all of the changes that the pandemic brought. My team was, was largely, you know, they continued to work. They weren't put on any, any sort of rotation or anything. And, and so some of the challenges that that created was, I think it was it was very interesting that again, the human element of work is, I think, the most rewarding and the most challenging.

 

Dan Seguin  33:21

Well, Joseph, we've reached the end of another episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. Again, thank you for joining us today. And Rebecca, I hope you had a lot of fun.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  33:32

I did. Thanks for having me.

 

Dan Seguin  33:33

Rebecca, and I will be co-hosting going forward in 2021. Thanks for joining us. And Rebecca, Do you really not know who Mulder and Scully are?

 

Rebecca Schwartz  33:44

Are they superheroes?

 

Dan Seguin  33:46

Oh god. See ya folks!