Diving into Human Performance

Human performance is the way people interact with their work environment, tasks, tools, and systems. It is influenced by various factors, such as knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviors, emotions, motivations, and expectations. Human performance can have a significant impact on the reliability and safety of the electric power grid, which is a complex and interdependent system that connects multiple infrastructural domains such as agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing.

The electric power grid is subject to changes and stresses due to diverse factors, such as climate change, natural disasters, weather, cyberattacks, and wildlife. These factors can create challenges and uncertainties for the grid operators, engineers, and workers who are responsible for maintaining and managing the grid. Human errors, violations, or dependencies can trigger or exacerbate events that may compromise the grid’s functionality and stability.

For example, human errors can occur due to slips, lapses, mistakes, or misunderstandings that result from cognitive limitations, information overload, fatigue, stress, or distractions. Human errors can lead to incorrect actions or decisions that may cause equipment failures, power outages, or accidents. Human violations can occur due to intentional or unintentional deviations from rules, procedures, or standards that are meant to ensure the grid’s security and performance. Human violations can expose the grid to risks of sabotage, fraud, theft, or cyberattacks. Human dependencies can occur due to reliance on other people or equipment for performing tasks or solving problems. Human dependencies can create vulnerabilities or inefficiencies in the grid’s operation if the communication or coordination is inadequate or disrupted.

Human performance is considered a risk factor to the electricity grid because it can affect the grid’s ability to cope with external threats and internal challenges. Improving human performance requires a holistic approach that considers the interactions between individuals, teams, organizations, and systems. It also requires a strategic approach that identifies and manages the critical risk indicators (CRIs) that reflect the state of the grid and its interdependent domains. By enhancing human performance, the electric power grid can become more resilient and adaptable to the changing environment and demands.

Entities can implement a variety of ways to improve human performance in the electric grid, depending on the specific goals, challenges, and opportunities of each situation. Some possible strategies are:

  1. Enhancing the training and education of the grid workforce, especially on the new technologies, standards, and practices that are emerging in the modernized grid. This can help improve the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of the grid personnel, as well as foster a culture of safety, reliability, and continuous improvement.
  2. Implementing human performance improvement programs that apply the principles and methods of human factors engineering, organizational psychology, and behavioral science to identify and address the root causes of human errors, violations, and dependencies. These programs can help reduce the frequency and severity of human-induced events, as well as increase the effectiveness and efficiency of human performance.
  3. Leveraging the capabilities of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, and automation, to augment and complement human performance.  Technology can help optimize the allocation of tasks and responsibilities between humans and machines, enhance the situational awareness and decision making of the grid operators, and provide feedback and guidance for improving human performance.
  4. Developing and deploying grid resilience technologies, such as microgrids, demand response, advanced metering, and energy storage, that can strengthen the transmission and distribution systems against external threats and internal challenges can help improve the reliability and security of the grid service, as well as provide more flexibility and choice for the grid customers.