No amount of planning can prevent power outages, particularly during storm season. So our preparations are focused on supporting rapid service restoration, in part by ensuring the availability of critical equipment and supplies.
That’s been no small task for the past few years as increasingly tempestuous and unpredictable storms have added strain to ongoing global and national supply chain challenges.
Our Transmission & Distribution and Procurement teams meet regularly with locations across the state to discuss inventory needs and track progress. “We recognized the importance of being well-prepared before summer arrived, so we started planning far in advance to mitigate any challenges that we might encounter,” said Robert Soltero, Manager of Procurement and Contracts.
The teams developed a comprehensive inventory of materials on hand, while identifying which items are most impacted by storms. For example, UniSource typically needs to replace poles and transformers each summer due to storm damage.
Transformers are in particularly short supply, due in part to a nationwide shortage of the specific type of steel needed to make them. They also are difficult to manufacture, with an intricate design that requires assembly by expert technicians to precise specifications.
UniSource uses many different types of transformers to convert energy from one voltage to another – a basic function of a modern electrical grid. Voltage is typically increased for efficient long-distance transmission, then reduced in stages for local distribution and delivery to customers.
As transformers have become harder to find, with longer lead times, the purchasing team began placing orders sooner. They also have deployed several strategies to ensure sufficient stock of transformers and other critical equipment was on hand for summer, Soltero said. The team:
- temporarily increased the inventory for critical items
- deepened collaborative relationships with key suppliers that provide essential materials
- expanded our supplier base with new international vendors
- stepped up efforts to repair and refurbish transformers from the field to boost inventory levels while awaiting new machines.
“The global supply chain challenges have tested our ingenuity,” explained Transmission & Distribution Manager Jeremy Erlacher, “but because of our proactive practice of deploying a variety of strategies to manage risk and ensure reliability, we’re well-positioned throughout the year as storms hit.”
Erlacher said there are promising signs that existing supply chain challenges are lifting, noting the team expects some more stability by the spring of 2024.