New partnership will aid AmerenUE's outage response

Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 5:02 p.m. CST; updated 10:39 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ST. LOUIS — Missouri’s largest electric utility, AmerenUE, and Saint Louis University said Thursday they’ve teamed up to create a new weather-monitoring system to help utility crews respond to outages more quickly.

The move comes two years after severe thunder and ice storms battered much of the region in the summer and winter, leading to power outages that affected hundreds of thousands of customers.

The new system is called Quantum Weather, a network of 100 weather stations mounted on existing utility poles that supplies close to real-time information from sites that are often 7 to 10 miles apart. About half the weather stations are already installed.

The information collected is fed over radio communications systems to computers in SLU’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. There, it will be analyzed for detailed information about where the weather could lead to power outages. That will help Ameren place workers and equipment closer to projected problem areas or respond more rapidly for weather-related repairs.

“Quantum Weather is going to offer us a whole new way to respond to severe storms,” said Richard Mark, AmerenUE’s senior vice president for Missouri energy delivery. “Any amount of time you can save by getting people and equipment to an area of storm damage is an improvement for us and to our customers,” he said.

The project will cost $400,000 annually, including two new assistantships for SLU graduate students.

William Dannevik, chair of the university’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said the idea for the project was “literally developed” during storms that hit the area hard in 2006.

Ameren said storms on July 19 and 21 that year affected electric service for 950,000 customers in Missouri and Illinois,  and some customers' power was out for nine days. Then from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, an ice storm affected 520,000 customers in the two states.

Ameren said it always monitors the weather but said the highly localized forecasts will give it neighborhood by neighborhood information about where problems might occur. The new weather stations will measure temperature, rainfall, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction.

Raymond Tait, SLUinterim vice provost for research, said the university was pleased about the partnership because it addresses real-world problems, allows for student development and lets the university give back to the community. Faculty and graduate students will be able to use data gathered for research opportunities, and students will gain weather forecasting experience.

The Quantum Weather system is part of Ameren’s Power On Project, the company’s plan announced in 2007 to invest $1 billion over three years to improve reliability, upgrade its delivery systems and improve the environmental performance of its power plants.

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