22 February 2014
The number of record-breaking storms since 2011, especially in the Northeast, has brought much attention to utilities and their ability to handle emergency response. As millions of Americans have been battling power outages and energy supply shortages due to this season’s record low temperatures, consumers are wondering what the weather might bring next and if their local power company will be prepared.
Utilities have been busy investing billions of dollars in resiliency measures and modifying their emergency response plans. The real results only become apparent, however, when their activities and advanced planning are put to the test during a severe event.
It is clear that public expectations for reliability and restoration has raised the bar considerably for utilities. Under the critical eye of both regulators and customers, we must ask: Are utilities better prepared today for extreme weather events than they were before Superstorm Sandy?
There are three important dimensions of storm preparedness to consider: the role of network infrastructure hardening (prevention), the role of responding to outages during an event (reaction) and the role of stakeholder management (perception).
Utilities continue to make significant investments in preventative or hardening measures to generation and transmission facilities. Over the last few years we have seen a focus on:
For example, PSE&G plans to spend $2.7 billion over the next ten years on these types of improvements for its electric network. Con Edison plans to spend over 1 billion dollars on their system over the next three years, also on network system hardening. However, hardening of generation and transmission assets takes time and is unlikely to deliver the immediate benefits necessary to handle this year’s storms.
Ultimately, weather event related damage and outages are inevitable. Therefore, efforts around restoration effectiveness have become increasingly important over the last few years.
Several Midwest and Northeast utilities have been at the cutting edge of such restoration improvements:
While preventative and reactive measures are within a utility’s control, it is more difficult for the utility to control public perception.
No matter how quickly a utility restores power, there may be a substantial difference between actual restoration performance and perceived performance in the eyes of the customer, regulator, politicians and media during an event. To address this gap, utilities are:
Though utilities may never be able to stay completely ahead of customer expectations, it is clear that the industry is stepping up efforts with respect to emergency response. This longer term step change will likely involve overhauling the aging generation and transmission system to make way for a digital utility that supports automated troubleshooting via real-time, two-way communications and perhaps greater local customer generation / storage to reduce dependency on the centralized grid.
While we may find ourselves asking, “Are we better prepared?” at the outset of each storm season, a continued focus on prevention, reaction, and perception measures will undoubtedly help utilities in their goal to deliver safe and reliable electricity to their customers.
To find out more about PA’s ReliabilityOneTM and how your utility could benefit from transmission and distribution and customer service benchmarking, contact us now.