Tropical storm-force winds blew through the DTE service territory on March 8, pounding the region for more than 12 hours, taking down power lines, snapping utility poles, and uprooting trees. The magnitude of the damage was unparalleled, as more than 800,000 DTE electric customers were left in the dark.

Smart meters, also known as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), played a critical role in our ability to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers at an unprecedented pace. Since 2008, DTE has installed more than 3.1 million smart meters – including 2.5 million electric smart meters. During the storm, the meters reduced the time it took to respond to our customers by perhaps days, as the technology communicated the scale of the damage and outages in real-time.

“Smart meters were a big help in knowing the scope of outages at each location, enabling us to prioritize restorations to circuits impacting the largest numbers of customers,” said Trevor Lauer, president and chief operating officer, DTE Electric.

Generating outage notifications & tracking customer outages

During the March 8 weather event, smart meters were able to detect and report customer outages. Before deploying crews into the field, we were able to use data from the devices to generate hyper-local internal outage maps to provide a fine-tuned view of hazards for our public safety teams, restoration crews, and police and fire responders.

 Confirming service restorations

When restoration efforts were complete, DTE was able to “ping” smart meters to verify that power was back on for affected customers. If power was not restored, the device was able to signal that additional repairs were needed. Before smart meters, we had to rely on an employee to check on the status, or wait for a customer to call and notify us of an issue. While customers’ phone calls will always be important, we can now confirm customer access to power in real-time.

Aiding vulnerable customers

For people with health conditions who require access to electricity at all times, smart meters played an important role in our ability support the thousands of customers who disclosed their need. By “pinging” their meters, we were able to determine if they were affected by the storm. Using the data from the technology, we were able to directly contact about 1,000 customers by phone to update them on the storm and connect them to assistance services like United Way’s 2-1-1 or nearby warming centers. We also sent DTE employees to the homes of about 15,000 vulnerable customers who we could not reach by phone for in-person welfare checks. Our customers responded positively to this outreach, and we are grateful to be able to prioritize their safety and welfare.