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6 reasons why utilities need satellites to fight billion-dollar weather events and disasters

What can governments, enterprises, and technology providers do with a few billion dollars? Make massive strides in socio-economic and scientific advancement, you’d say. But today, years of economic development have come undone as climate change and disasters wreak havoc in the United States. 

Weather and climate-related events in 2020 and 2021: Fact check 

Twenty-two separate billion-dollar weather events wreaked havoc in the United States in 2020. It was the sixth straight year with 10 or more billion-dollar disasters. In 2021 (as of July 9), there have been 8 weather and climate-related disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion, NOAA reveals.  
 
All but two of the disasters occurred east of the Rockies, including seven hurricanes and tropical storms, and 13 separate severe weather events. Only the record-breaking wildfire season and the expansive drought made the billion-dollar list out of the West in 2020. 
 
The costliest 2020 disasters included Hurricane Laura ($19 billion), the Western wildfires ($16.5 billion) and the massive Midwest derecho ($11 billion). 

Map and approximate locations of the 22 separate billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. in 2020 (NOAA/NCEI) 

The evolving risk landscape for electric utilities  

If experts, statistics, and climate change are to be believed, these disasters are only going to magnify in frequency and intensity in the near future. The electric grid is one of the most critical infrastructure systems for modern life, but it is also one of the most vulnerable. Above-ground transmission and distribution lines are highly vulnerable to weather events.  
 
Talking specifically about transmission and distribution, disasters cost dearly to electric utilities and cause long disruptions in electricity provisions. Starting from damage to infrastructure, vegetation-related outages to massive post-restoration work; these events impact reliability, cause customer satisfaction, and hamper business in the process.  
 
Effective disaster preparedness is exceptionally critical, but also equally challenging for utility companies. Mitigating risks to the electric grid from extreme weather events and climate variability becomes an even more challenging task when layered with other risks, such as changing energy supplies and shifting demand. Traditional risk mitigation strategies employed by policymakers, utilities, and the insurance industry are no longer meeting the challenge of an evolving risk landscape, a situation in which all the risks (extreme weather, increasing variability in climate, growing populations, and insufficient energy diversification) are evolving and highly dynamic. 
 
It’s high time that electric utilities plan, prioritize, and prepare themselves for big disasters that might come with bigger implications.  

6 ways satellites can empower utilities to better prepare for disasters 

Opportunities for managing risks of weather- and climate-related disasters exist or can be developed at any scale. Some strategies for effectively managing risks and adapting to climate change involve adjustments to current activities. Others require transformation or fundamental change. 
 
Monitoring and preparedness along T&D lines have been done in a manual and ineffective manner for decades now. Satellite technology is the new intelligent, accurate, and accessible way to streamline disaster preparedness and planning. Let’s find out how:  

  1. Monitoring and risk assessment – Thousands of satellites are dedicated to Earth observation and monitoring. They gather several types of data: optical, LiDAR, radar, and SAR imagery used for imaging, mapping and remote sensing. Utilities can make use of near-real-time satellite imagery and information to remotely monitor their T&D satellitelines and the vegetation growth around their network. Vegetation management is one of the most challenging aspects of O&M processes and often aggravates risks in disaster situations.  
     
    Satellite data can also be used to monitor weather and impact in an area of interest that can help in assessing risk-prone areas in advance, thus proving valuable in managing risks much better. Satellites can be used in forecasting droughts and famines, flood monitoring, fire mapping, earthquake response, and coping with cyclones. There is clearly great potential for applying satellites in the assessment of damage and the evaluation of the situation on the ground in the aftermath of disasters.  

  1. Using predictive analytics and Artificial Intelligence – Combining satellite data with the latest technologies like predictive analytics and AI are increasing the possibilities and benefits by many folds. Already utilities are using AIsatellite data and AI to improve their O&M practices such as vegetation management. From predicting the growth rate of varied tree species to planning cycle trimming, satellites are emerging as the most effective technology for remote monitoring and inspection of utility infrastructure. Similarly, in disaster situations, AI can be used in predicting the extent of damage and impact of storms, cyclones, floods or droughts. Early warning approaches must be accompanied by efforts to understand, assess and ultimately reduce exposure and vulnerability of physical assets and population to disasters. 

  1. Pre- and post-disaster management – Satellites are very well suited to observing, studying, and reporting risks in much larger geographical areas for floods, hurricanes, storms, etc. Since spatial data include georeferencing, they disasterare the best source of data for the analysis and management of natural hazards and short-term weather and long-term climate monitoring. Digital surface models and digital elevation models are enabling a lot of research and analysis in this space. 
     
    Satellite data provide an excellent assessment of the extent of damages done by any given disaster. It helps access areas that have a higher likelihood of incoming disasters - they do this by detecting and observing the areas around the region and then map it against the changing weather and temperature conditions as well as use historic data of that region to measure the extent of damages that might take place.  After any storm has taken place, the first 72 hours are by far the most critical. By comparing pre- and post-disaster damage to assess the impact of the disaster, satellites combined with AI can be used to prioritize response based on accessibility as well as the criticality of damages in the area. 

  1. Identifying regional natural disaster risks – Different geographical regions are prone to different types of weather events and disasters. It is possible to evaluate and analyze historic satellite data to find out the extent and impact of regiondamage a particular type of disaster might have in the region. 

    Hence, utilities of specific regions must have devoted teams to manage disaster preparedness and planning as they make use of remote sensing and GIS data via satellites to identify regional natural disaster risks.  

  2. Weather-independent data – Satellites with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology is used to create two-dimensional images or three-dimensional reconstructions of objects, such as landscapes or an area of interest. SAR SARis one of the most useful and emerging technologies in remote sensing. Unlike drones and helicopters, this technology ensures the guaranteed acquisition of data along with constant monitoring independent of light, weather, or cloud-cover conditions. It is known for its high accuracy even during nighttime. SAR can “see” through the darkness, clouds, and rain, detecting changes in levels of water and moisture, habitat effects of natural or human disturbance, and changes in the Earth’s surface after natural disasters like earthquakes and sinkhole openings. 

  3. Disaster response planning – In the event of a disaster, data collected via satellites can be ranked in order of criticality, customers affected by power outages, accessibility and level of damage to utility infrastructure.
    Disaster Response 
    Satellites can provide the most optimal routing to contractors and field workers to work on the damages caused with the help of a web dashboard and mobile application that are powered by AI and analytics models. Crews can then be immediately deployed for priority-based restoration work.  

    It is possible to design, implement, and evaluate strategies, policies, and measures to improve the understanding of disaster risk, foster disaster risk reduction, and transfer, and promote continuous improvement in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery practices with the use of satellite data. This will directly improve human security, well-being, resilience, and business for electric utilities. 

Power outages and disruptions due to weather events and disasters will continue to be a massive challenge for utility companies if the right technologies are not applied. Preparedness and planning is key to minimize the extent and impact of disasters. The use of satellites in disaster management has proven critical in timely allocation, assessment, containment and risk mitigation. AiDash is on a mission to empower utilities to fight billion-dollar weather events and disasters. If you want to accelerate your disaster response, plan disaster recovery strategy in advance, and carry out immediate post-disaster management, AiDash Disaster and Disruptions Management System (DDMS) aims to help you. To know more about our disaster and disruptions management system, drop us a mail at info@aidash.com.  

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