Will Post-Sandy Outages Redefine Utility Response Efforts

Two weeks after blasting a trail of destruction along the US northeast coast, power outages left by Superstorm Sandy persist across large areas, setting the stage for rethinking utilities’ blackout response efforts.
Published: Fri 14 Dec 2012

What happened

Hurricane Sandy’s dealt a swift, deadly blow to the busiest economic corridor in the US. Are US utilities ready to meet to challenges of weather related outages?

Background

As of November 12, 2012, 400 000 residents across New York and New Jersey, are still waiting for someone to flip on the power switch. While despairing neighborhoods fight for life to return to normal, utility crews struggle to cope with the enormous task of restoring power to flood ravaged areas.

For the 400 000 left in the dark and cold, the growing number of federal and utility crews pouring in from across the country has brought little relief. Reports say efforts to restore power are frustrated by the lag in crucial onsite electrical inspections. Further, a lack of communication between stakeholders has caused confusion around who exactly is to be responsible for initiating said inspections.  

Of hurricanes and nuclear plants

It was inevitable that the media draw comparisons to Japan’s Fukushima disaster during its feverish coverage of Superstorm Sandy. Bloomberg reported on a top US lawmaker calling for the swift implementation of nuclear-safety rules developed after Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

According to the Business Week article, 34 of the US’ 104 operating nuclear power plants were in the hurricane’s path. The storm led to the shutdown of 3 reactors, and a 4th, Exelon Corp. (EXC)’s Oyster Creek facility in New Jersey, to declare an alert. Of the rest, 24 plants remained unaffected and the remaining 7 plants are being inspected or refueled.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has created set of Fukushima-inspired rules set to come into effect during 2016, one of which require reactors to have emergency equipment in place to indefinitely survive a blackout.

The new normal… technologies converge

Rising tides along the Gulf Coast have shrunk wetlands by 25% since 1932 and residents along the east coast ought to heed Sandy’s warning. Rocky Kistner reports scientists except storms like Sandy to become more commonplace, which may require utilities to adjust their emergency response strategies altogether.

Katherine Tweed writes, “while all the technology in the world cannot guard against an entire substation being flooded… there are a lot of technology systems that can help reduce the damage and outage time when weather events hit.”

According to Tweed, a smart grid analyst predicts the industry will likely continue to see a convergence of information technologies and operation technologies in coping with challenges to power stability in the future.

The LAST word!

Can utilities match grid reliability demands to climate scientists’ ominous predictions of severe weather? Perhaps Hurricane Sandy’s devastating visit on the US northeast coast corridor will embolden lawmakers to take decisive steps towards greener energy legislation and grid optimization.

Sources

Bloomberg Business Week: Nuclear power industry survives Sandy’s readiness test

EnergyCollective.com: In Gulf’s rising tide, Sandy strikes familiar chord

GreenTechMedia.com: Waterproofing the underground grid

GreenTechMedia.com: The path to increased grid reliability requires advanced analytics

Intelligent Utility: Natural Gas Crews Head East; Utility Increases its Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts