Business & Finance, Power Restoration

Using iPads to Help Restore Power

By Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer Published: July 24th, 2012

For line crews at one North Dakota electric cooperative it’s goodbye to clunky paper maps and hello to iPads and greater job efficiency.

Nodak EC’s Dave Berg out in his truck with his trusty iPad. (Photo By: Clarice Kesler)

Nodak EC’s Dave Brag out in his truck with his trusty iPad. (Photo By: Clarice Kesler)

Wanting to streamline its engineering and operating procedures for crews in the field, Nodak Electric Co-op, Grand Forks, will expand a successful iPad pilot it began earlier this year. Eventually, 55 employees will carry one.

A fully loaded iPad contains a map of the co-op’s entire 8,200-square-mile service area, plus a member’s contact information, equipment location and online forms—data that was physically stored in different places.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Dave Brag, a crew foreman in the co-op’s Finley District, where the iPads debuted.

“I’m able to keep on top of job tickets, instead of going back to the office and then already be a day behind,” Brag said. “I can use it for mapping and if there’s an outage, I can immediately see which phase it’s on.”

In the pre-iPad days, line crews had to lug around 500-page books that became outdated quickly.

“The only way to add comments or notes with paper maps was to individually hand-write notes into their books. Now one person can annotate a note and it can be shared across all iPads,” said Steve Breidenbach, the co-op’s engineering manager.

To store data, the co-op relies on another growing trend: cloud storage. Instead of storing information on a hard drive or another local storage device, data is saved on a remote database, which Nodak users can access wherever there’s Internet access.

And because the cloud data operates within a secure server, “information immediately gets shared” through a communal drop box with different folders, said Breidenbach.

Going from digital to paperless was a significant expense, but it was cheaper than buying heavy-duty laptops, said Breidenbach. The mobile devices cost about $500 each, while a ruggedized laptop could cost about three times as much, about $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the configuration.

In perhaps the ultimate test, the technology can benefit the bottom line: the co-op’s members.

“We have more data at our fingertips to better answer their questions in a timelier manner,” Breidenbach said.

Watch Nodak’s five-minute video about its iPad project.

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