Preparing Utility Infrastructure for Extreme Weather

October 18, 2017 Alyson Rossini

Customer service is a valuable part of any utility business strategy. When the power goes out, customers aren’t concerned with how the power will be restored - they just want it back on. Utilities are feeling more pressure to protect the grid from extreme weather and restore power as quickly as possible with hurricanes, floods, and snow and ice storms causing more power outages in the United States than any other source.

Reliability is also compromised because of aging infrastructure. Some U.S. transmission and distribution (T&D) lines in service today were constructed during the 1950s and 1960s. They were not built to meet today’s power demands nor withstand severe weather.

According to Energy.Gov, there have been 100 reported major power outages in the United States from January through August this year. Depending on the number of customers without power, the Department of Energy estimates that a single storm can cost anywhere from $500,000 to more than $1 billion.

Utilities are exploring how to proactively prepare for severe weather events.  They are evaluating options such as, if one feeder goes out, will one or more alternate feeders be able to pick up the additional load? How long can we operate feeders abnormally before these temporary configurations cause more damage to the system? What measures can we take to modernize the grids and improve resiliency to withstand severe weather, aging infrastructure and the need for improved reliability?

Grid Hardening

Answering these questions often leads utilities to investigate grid hardening measures to mitigate the challenges that severe weather and aging infrastructure produce. Grid hardening solutions physically change the infrastructure to make it less susceptible to extreme wind, flooding or flying debris while protecting facilities against weather events by making it easier to withstand severe damage.

One approach to grid hardening is to modernize the current infrastructure by implementing advanced technology and advanced communications. Another facet is to implement resiliency measures, providing for the continued operability and functionality of the facility despite damage. Resiliency also addresses the time it takes for a facility to regain power and operations after damage. The faster the restoration time, the better the resiliency.

The main goal of modernization and resiliency is to be ready for what might come and is often defined by two categories: general readiness and storm-related readiness:

  • General readiness commonly includes improving communications and preparedness training and activities like regular line inspections, maintenance, and vegetation management. It also includes proactive planning and preventative maintenance.
  • Storm-related readiness involves bolstering emergency measures and having them ready to deploy in the immediate aftermath of a storm. These activities include pre-staging materials and developing a plan for crew response.

By employing a grid hardening program, utility companies can go a long way towards executing a system of actions that create a strong infrastructure and help to maintain operations during weather events. More importantly, these activities help utilities restore power as soon as possible if an outage does occur. 

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