Utilities Enter the 21st Century with Mobile Apps

SandwichPicture this: you’re in the kitchen assembling a tasty sandwich.  You pull out the turkey, unscrew the mayo jar, and start to slice the tomato.  Just as you begin to un-twist the bag of bread, your electricity goes out, leaving you utterly ravenous and perhaps a bit frightened.  You should be making your way to check the fuse box, but all you can think is, “Damn you, power companies. I didn’t toast my bread!”

Chances are, the power company is not the one to blame.  It could have been caused by weather, high demand, or even animals.  Either way, you’re standing in the dark wanting to know when you’ll be able to enjoy that sandwich.  So what do you do?  You could watch the news to see if it’s a serious situation…oh wait, the power is out.  You could whip out that ten pound phone book some kid left on your porch six years ago…but everyone and their grandma is probably calling the utility and it’ll take you twenty minutes just to get in touch with someone.  Or you could take advantage of that mobile program you signed up for a few months ago and just take a gander at your phone, given that it still has some charge to it.

Who’s getting involved?

Utilities are slowly starting to transition into the 21st century with a new mobile notification system.  Among the utilities making the switch is Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L).  Following the infamous Superstorm Sandy, and all of the havoc she caused, JCP&L began taking measures to improve its communication system, mainly on mobile devices.

“We did focus groups with our customers in New Jersey after the major storms and what we heard from them is that they don’t want to have to go searching for information about their outages,” stated Tricia Ingraham, web-financial communications lead for First Energy, parent company of JCP&L.  “They want it whenever and wherever it’s convenient for them and, in most cases, that meant in the palm of their hands on the smartphone that they are carrying around, that is usually working during an outage.”

A smartphone app was launched in early 2013, followed by a text-message notification system in summer 2013, and a new Facebook page in the spring of 2014.  Customers are now able to view severe storm alerts, outage information, indicator maps, and details like crew dispatches and approximate restoration times.

Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G) is also jumping on the bandwagon.  “Our customers have said they wanted more information about power outages, especially during storms like Sandy,” said Vice President of Electric Operations John Latka.  “With this major upgrade to our Outage Map, customers can now make more informed decisions for their family or their business during an outage.”

What’s next?

With the progress of today’s technology and the rapid adoption in the energy industry, we can only hope these trends continue.  More efficient infrastructure, an increase in smart devices, and an implementation into the corporate world is on the list of improvements that still need to be made, but we’re off to a great start.  Be sure to check with your utility and take advantage of any mobile communication programs that are available.

Oh look, the power came back on.  Now go devour that sandwich.

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