Grid modernization and grid hardening to address natural disasters

During the 2018 DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio, Texas, PA Consulting Group’s Energy and Utilities expert Gregg Edeson provided a presentation prior to the panel discussion session “Harvey, Irma and Maria: How the grid responded to a hurricane season for the ages.”

This following synopsis includes highlights from the presentation.


The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is considered one of the most challenging hurricane seasons ever, with the highest accumulated cyclone energy and the highest number of storms since 2005. The impacts of Harvey, Irma, and Maria struck different regions, but echoed similar devastations: many lives lost, millions without power, and substations and T&D lines down for hundreds of square miles.

During the panel discussion, executives at Florida Power & Light, CenterPoint Energy and AEP Texas, which faced the brunt of the storms this season, discussed all of the crucial challenges resulting from the storms, various outage restoration strategies, and of course, the human element.

Major themes addressed during the discussion included the following:

  • Emphasizing people and safety
  • Vegetation management including the removal and replacement of trees
  • Customer communications
  • Grid modernization
  • External stakeholder management
  • The role of AMI and AMS meters in pinpointing customer locations
  • Expanded use of drones and putting the right resources in place to make sure the right data is being captured.

Much of the transmission and distribution infrastructure in the U.S. is more than a hundred years old

This creates a great challenge for utilities as they are seeing their assets further strained by the mechanical stress of major storm events that exceed originally designed standards. However, utilities are actively working to harden their systems against damage to prevent and decrease the number and duration of power outages.

What is putting pressure on the existing infrastructure?

  • Aging infrastructure
  • Grid automation
  • More severe weather patterns
  • Challenged recoverable costs and authorized return on equity (ROEs)
  • Higher distribution grid complexity from increased penetration of distributed electricity supply on the distribution grid
  • Increased customer-centric focuses
  • Customer & Commercial Renewables (DER).

In addition to the existing system, utilities also need to deal with modernization demands/requirements

Key elements of grid modernization include the following:

Public expectations catapult reliability and restoration to the forefront of utilities’ agendas

With the heightened level of natural disasters as the new normal, utilities are now seizing the opportunity to better communicate with their customers and regulators using a number of methods such as social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. Ultimately, the goal is to help all stakeholders understand the situation at hand.


Looking ahead, reliability and resiliency will continue to be more important, and utilities will continue to use a variety of innovative methods and tools to better serve the customer.

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