The value of Grid/system hardening measures for electric utilities.
It doesn’t really matter what part of the country your utility is located, it is virtually guaranteed that you will be subject to potential grid damage from at least one of a number of natural occurrences. These can include hurricanes, tornadoes and/or windstorms, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and blizzards and/or heavy snows.
In addition, not only are the numbers and intensities of these events increasing year after year, but the costs associated with the damage continue to climb. According to a report from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there were over 300 disasters between 1980 and 2022 that led to costs of over one billion dollars in damage each. (These were floods, severe storms, hurricanes, wildfires, and winter storms.) During the 1980s, there were about 30 such events. During the 2010s, there were over 120.
- In terms of hurricanes: According to the NOAA, between 1991 and 2020, there were an average of 14 names storms, seven hurricanes, and three major hurricanes per year.
- In terms of wildfires: According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, there were an average of between 70,000 and 80,000 wildfires per year during the 1980s and 1990s, with an average of three million acres burned each year. From 2015 to 2021, there were only an average of 60,000 wildfires per year. However, the average acres burned each year during that timeframe was approximately eight million – almost three times as much acreage.
- In terms of tornadoes: According to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, between 1991 and 2020, there were an average of 1,225 tornadoes per year. During the 1950s and 1960s, that average was only about 700, and, during the 1970s and 1980s, the average was about 900 per year. In other words, the numbers per year continue to increase.
- In terms of earthquakes: According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), there are approximately 16 major earthquakes per year – with 15 in the magnitude 7 range, and one magnitude 8 or greater.
The Need For Utility Response
“Enhancing the Security of the North American Electric Grid,” a 2020 report published by the Congressional Budget Office, noted that: “A secure and reliable supply of electric power is a key component of modern economies. Not only are other energy sources often poor substitutes, but essentially every industrial and commercial process in the United States requires its use, and nearly all homes rely on it.”
The report went on to note that even short-term interruptions in the delivery of electric power result in economic losses or inconveniences for consumers and businesses. “Longer outages can result in spoilage of food and other perishables, forgone sales, the idling of resources in production processes, disruptions to the supply of water and fuels, and other threats to health and safety,” it said.
According to the report, the electric grid is responsible for delivering power to some 150 million customers (households, businesses, and government facilities), sometimes across considerable distances. Those deliveries are usually very reliable. For example, in recent years, the average annual loss of power for a typical customer has ranged between three and eight hours, which is roughly one-tenth of one percent of the time or less.
The higher end of the range occurred because of what the industry classifies as major events: snowstorms, hurricanes, and others. However, according to the report, the cause of an outage is usually something affecting
local delivery, such as less severe weather or an equipment problem, and the outage affects a small area and is not long-lasting. However, the report went on to note that the overall stability of the electric grid has also been punctuated by rare, wide-ranging outages of greater magnitude. Those outages are often caused by severe coastal storms or by system failures on especially hot days.
“The likelihood of wide-ranging and long-lasting outages is small, but the consequences could be severe,” said the report. “Some estimates suggest that losses in the economy could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars
or even more than a trillion dollars in some scenarios. Losses could also be considerably less depending on the extent of the disaster or attack; the condition of the system, including whether the grid retained enough power
to handle emergencies; and the effectiveness of existing protections and recovery measures, among other factors.”
Utility Response Options – Hardening the Grid/System
So What Can Utilities Do To Prevent Or at Least Reduce The Frequency and Security, of Such Events?
There are several options. Some of the most notable are strategies and projects designed to improve the reliability of the grid, such as backup generation, microgrids, utility-scale battery storage, and/or DER (distributed energy resources). Admittedly, some of these can be very costly. In the meantime, there are other strategies that utilities that can explore that come under the label of “grid/system hardening.” Some of the most popular of these strategies are not nearly as costly as microgrids, batter storage, DER, etc. However, they can still often “do the job” in terms of improving grid/system resilience. Finley’s engineers are well-versed in these options, and can help you not only decide which ones make sense, but also help you implement the most appropriate strategies. Continue reading >>>