Weather is a constant challenge for utilities.
And while you’ll never win the war with Nature, there are actions you should be doing to protect, or harden, your grid when the inevitable hurricane, wildfire, or ice storm strikes.
What is grid hardening or storm hardening?
Grid hardening, also known as storm hardening, is a common practice with utilities to assess potential risks in the electric grid and take strategic actions to proactively mitigate those risks, harden key infrastructure, and protect utility customers from outages.
Some of these actions include replacing poles, burying lines or “undergrounding,” substation elevation, and vegetation management.
The goal is that when a storm or natural disaster does occur, less outages and damages come along with it.
Why is grid hardening important?
According to the World Meteorological Organization, “The number of disasters has increased by a factor of 5 over the 50-year period, driven by climate change.”
And unfortunately, there aren’t signs that it’ll slow down anytime soon.
Not only that, but the severity is sharply rising, with billion-dollar storms reaching a record high.
That’s right, billion-dollar.
According to the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI), The U.S. alone has experienced 332 billion dollar disasters since 1980, costing over $2.2 trillion.
The reality is that natural disasters will happen. Utilities can mitigate or avoid some (like wildfires) with grid hardening, others like hurricanes and ice storms are out of our control.
FERC estimates a 250% ROI on grid hardening investment, saying “every $1 million in direct spending on grid modernization and hardening generates some $2.5 million in GDP growth thanks mostly to avoided or reduced outages”, not to mention the boosts in reliability and customer satisfaction metrics.
That’s why focus has increased so much on grid and storm hardening methods to limit the outages and customer impact as much as possible.
Most common grid hardening strategies
Grid hardening is going to look different for all utilities. Those in the U.S. Northeast are going to do different things to protect against ice storms than those in the Southeast against hurricanes or the West against wildfires.
However here are the main activities that typically fall into a grid hardening plan.
Assessing and replacing poles
This is one of the most common grid-hardening techniques, especially for those who deal with coastal storms.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) standard says that a pole should be able to hold up against winds of 145 mph on the coast, although that lessens the further inland you go.
To meet that requirement utilities often replace wooden poles with concrete or steel options.
Reinforcing key infrastructure
Another option, short of replacing all of the poles on your network is to add guy wires to make them more secure.
For those who deal with a lot of ice storms there are also special coatings you can apply to make your poles and cables more resistant to ice.
Substations flooding is both costly and time-consuming to repair. To combat this you can elevate your substations above water level or add moats to protect against flooding.
While extremely expensive and harder to fix should an issue ever occur, undergrounding could be an option to do strategically if you have specific areas at high risk or that are in highly populated areas that give power to key infrastructure (police, hospitals, fire stations).
Sometimes overlooked is the management of vegetation along your transmission and distribution lines.
Managing your right of ways (ROW), identifying and dealing with hazard trees, and finding any areas outside of the ROW that are at high risk of fall-ins can be an effective measure to take for storm hardening.
Investing in smart grids, reclosers or backup microgrids
Becoming more popular are more high-tech methods to make your power grid more resilient. These can lessen your outages and downtime during natural disasters and limit the overall impact that customers feel.
Where to start with grid hardening
Assessing and analyzing your entire network can be time consuming and expensive, but you need actionable data to understand exactly where your grid needs to be shored up.
New advancements in satellite technology and AI can give you a near-real-time 3-D scan of your entire network, flagging your risk areas and even recommending which grid-hardening techniques may apply and what resources you should allocate to get the work done.
This rapid data capture can give you the insight to confidently put together an action plan, harden your grid, and keep reliability high during storm or wildfire season.
Want to see what a data-driven grid hardening approach would look like for your utility? Talk to a specialist today