Extreme weather events such as hurricanes are known to have a significant impact on power supply. Utilities are under pressure to enact an effective disaster recovery strategy, so that once the hurricane has passed, they can quickly work to restore service so that residents can get on with their lives and businesses.
There is widespread agreement in the scientific community that extreme weather events will worsen as the planet warms. Climate change poses long-term challenges by changing the frequency, intensity, and duration of weather events such as hurricanes that represent the largest source of disruptions to the region. As a result, our utilities must work assiduously at developing resiliency to address any increase in extreme weather.
There are four elements that contribute to the concept of resilience by addressing risk management needs before, during, and after a threatening event:
Robustness: “The ability to absorb shocks and continue operation.”
Resourcefulness: “The ability to skillfully manage a crisis as it unfolds.”
Rapid recovery: “The ability to get services back as quickly as possible.”
Adaptability: “The ability to incorporate lessons learned from past events to improve resilience.”
There is an emphasis on not just developing response options to mitigate damage and to recover from damage as quickly as possible, but also on learning from experience so that the system becomes more robust over time.
A significant factor in the restorative process is the use of voluntary assistance programmes that can provide the additional manpower needed to restore service and can be tapped from regional utilities that have not been adversely impacted. Each hurricane or storm poses an opportunity for learning, experience and growth, making our energy systems smarter, stronger and more storm resilient.
There is a danger that in striving to rebuild infrastructure as quickly as possible after a disaster, utilities may miss the opportunity to improve that infrastructure rather than simply restoring it to its previous state. Furthermore, robust infrastructure and assets need to be supplemented with policies and practices that streamline assessment and decision making, while enhancing coordination and communication. To get ahead of storms and prepare communities for fast recovery in the most effective way possible, investment must be made early in infrastructure and preventative measures.
Transmission and distribution networks are vulnerable to storm damage and will benefit from hardening measures. For instance, undergrounding, while expensive, can substantially increase system reliability and resilience to extreme weather. Hardening of power lines that serve critical facilities and services can also aid in resilience, in addition to clearing power lines of vegetation that could cause power outages. Employment of smart meters and devices to deal with power outages, from prediction to prevention and restoration when outages do happen.