Taking the Lead on Resiliency in 2021
Thanks to the tumultuous events of 2020, utilities in North America found themselves confronting multiple and sometimes concurrent crises. COVID-19 did not halt for the year’s long list of severe weather events and wildfires. Normally well-versed in crisis management, utilities found themselves confronting new challenges while dealing with both the expected and unexpected from mother nature.
The “new normal” of pandemic-related disruptions has collided with a “new reality” of more frequent severe weather events and wildfires. Historical data from the NOAA shows that the average number of “billion-dollar” severe weather events has steadily increased every decade since the 1980s. From 1980-1989, billion-dollar weather events averaged 2.9 events per year. From 2010-2019, billion-dollar events averaged 11.9 events per year. As of October 2020, the NOAA has reported no less than 16 of these billion-dollar events (including wildfires and hurricanes Sally, Laura, and Isaias).
Last year’s events have led many utilities and stakeholders to ask important questions about the future of resiliency and hardening North America’s electrical grid.
Leading Cost-Effective Resiliency Efforts
A recent article in Public Utilities Fortnightly by Mike Beehler explained the need for a new resiliency paradigm and how electric utilities are in a unique position to take the lead on cost-effective resiliency efforts.
“System resiliency is achieved by grid hardening, or physically changing infrastructure to reduce its susceptibility to damage. Resiliency is the ability to withstand a high-impact, low-probability event with little or no customer impact. Or, according to the North American Reliability Council, the effectiveness of a resilient infrastructure or enterprise depends upon its ability to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and/or rapidly recover from a potentially disruptive event.
Hardening the grid increases its durability and stability — making it better able to withstand the impacts of severe weather and fire and potentially reduce the impacts of unexpected worldwide events like COVID-19. Utilities have a unique opportunity to take the lead on building system resiliency and developing best practices for monitoring, measuring, and assessing the results.
Electric utilities have the best data and access to world-class capabilities to assess resiliency levels, their cost-effectiveness, and life-cycle value versus initial capital cost. New metrics may be needed such as Total Length of Restoration to define the benefits to all customers.
Additionally, electric utilities are the key point of communication between consumers and regulators. Positioned between all relevant parties, electric utilities are best able to lead the dialogue, advocate for regulatory change, and propose cost-effective resilience solutions for long-term improvement that will provide stakeholder and shareholder value.
Unfortunately, electric utilities have the financial risk. Normally not adversely impacted by stock market volatility, U.S. utilities saw share prices fall by ten percent to thirty percent during COVID-19. Increasing severe weather and fire events bring financial risk.”
Utilities are Not Alone
An organization of suppliers, consultants, and other stakeholders, PDi2 is here to support the industry in finding the most cost-effective resiliency solutions. Our purpose is to achieve power grid resiliency and reliability at the lowest life-cycle cost. To this end, our website offers many free resources, and we hope you will take some time to explore them.
Visit our Research page to download the Utility Infrastructure Resiliency Playbook. This comprehensive resource outlines the steps for creating a resiliency program and includes examples of how some utilities are already investing in programs to make their T&D systems more resilient.
Or, head over to our White Papers and Presentations page to read the full version of Mike’s article referenced above or to watch a webinar about Dominion Energy’s Strategic Underground Program.