On Our Way to an Invisible Network Service.

Tarmo Mere, Elektrilevi Director
07.05.2012
The best network services are invisible to customers. Ordinary consumers don't have to know what a network operator is and what network services are; they care about having a reliable electricity supply at home or in the office and about keeping their lights burning brightly.

We have not exactly managed to stay invisible so far because of the quality of the electricity network at the moment. The two events that put us in the centre of attention in 2011 were the roll-out of new information systems and the snowstorm called Patrick around Christmastime. But apart from these challenges, last year also saw us succeed many times in improving the quality of the network service.

All Eesti Energia's and Elektrilevi's employees will remember the spring and summer of last year for a long time. It was then that we were replacing our major information systems: the customer information system, the metering information system and the document management system. Although we had spent years preparing this large-scale project, there were still some problems with it and our customers had to endure some inconveniences. Fortunately, the difficulties of the transition period are now over. We needed to replace our information systems with new ones because the open electricity market demands that the activities of the network operator and the electricity sellers are separated, and the amount of data in the open market will be many times larger. Now we are ready for that.

Nature had prepared another great challenge for Elektrilevi at the end of the year when the snowstorm called Patrick hit around Christmas, affecting almost 200,000 households and requiring all of our workers to deal with the consequences. It does seem unimaginable that people would have to spend days or even a whole week without electricity in the 21st century, but our crews did their best. We had to contend with a shortage of qualified electricians, overhead lines that run through forests and the fact that restoring the power supply demanded a lot of work that could only be done manually, but we managed to repair everything twice as fast as ever before and also faster than our northern neighbours, who had the same number of breakages to repair and twice as many workers. Naturally, we also learned something from this experience and have already started introducing changes in our IT solutions and customer notification and in our training for our partners.

We Have Laid the Foundations for Rapid Improvement in Network Quality.
Although power outages are obviously irritating, our customers have also noticed some significant improvements and developments.

Customer satisfaction with the way we organise the planned outages that we need for working in the electrical network increased. We are paying more attention to planned outages so that we do not bother customers with power outages more often when the amount of work increases. We have reorganised our work processes and started doing more work with the wires remaining live. Scheduled outages in 2010 were 171 minutes per household, but we managed to cut them to 111 minutes per household last year.

We have also achieved impressive results in improving the process of compensation for damages by making the way we process claims for compensation for damage faster, simpler and more understandable for customers. It used to take us 23 days to make a decision and give an answer to the customer before, but the whole process took an average of only eight days in 2011. The excellent work of our loss prevention crews and the installation of new electricity meters helped us minimise electricity network losses to 5.8% in 2011, down from 13.9% ten years ago when we made it our priority to reduce network losses.

What we can certainly regard as our biggest success is that we have done the groundwork that will let us increase the pace of improvement in the network quality. The new network service fees allowed us to invest 73 million euros in the electricity network and to build faster. We will be able to upgrade the network on an even larger scale in the near future so that we will come close to fulfilling our customers' most important expectations and to providing them with an uninterrupted power supply. I believe we will see the first results of the improved network quality as early as the three-year period when the current network fees apply, but the improvement in the electricity supply quality will become more apparent in the next ten years when most of the network has been replaced with weather-proof underground and overhead cables.

2012: Moving Towards a Weather-Proof Network and the Open Market.
The upgrading of the electricity network to reduce the number of power outages will remain one of Elektrilevi's priorities for many years to come as this is a decade-long project and it cannot be completed overnight.

Although the effect of upgrading the electricity network will not become apparent immediately, we are also working hard to restore the power supply following outages as early as possible and to improve our customer information system. In 2011 we managed to restore the power supply within two hours in 72% of outages, and we are working to improve that result by installing remote control automation in the electricity network and focusing more on IT development.

We are also using IT solutions to improve the process of informing our customers about power outages. At the end of the year we launched a pilot project for informing customers about outages and the estimated time it will take us to restore the power supply by text message, and we hope to offer this notification service to customers all over Estonia in the summer.

This year, 2012, is also the year of preparation for the opening of the electricity market. Although the network supplying homes and companies with electricity will remain the same and there will be no competition here, the open market will have an effect on network operators. We must ensure equal opportunities for all electricity sellers and make sure we can cope with the amount of data exchanged between the network operator and electricity sellers, which will become several times larger in the open market.

To keep the network business and the competitive business separate, Jaotusvõrk will also get a new name, Elektrilevi, from the end of May. This name represents our long-term goal which is to bring electricity to our customers without fail. We can say we have reached this goal when our customers do not notice how electricity "spreads" and are not aware that there is a network operator. That will not happen overnight, but we will manage to create a reliable electricity network by working conscientiously towards a clear goal.

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