No doubt superstorm Sandy was a profound wake-up call to electric utilities and government at all levels. That event and the general agreement that we must speed up the modernization of the grid and fortify it against all types of events have prompted discussions and recommendations from every quarter.
One such effort was a recent report by the GridWise Alliance, a coalition advocating the modernization of the nation’s electric system. Founded in 2003, GridWise represents a broad range of the energy supply chain, including utilities, large tech companies, academia, venture capitalists and emerging tech companies.
GridWise’s recommendations are the result of a post-Sandy workshop during which representatives of 20 electric utilities from across the United States, along with suppliers and other experts, shared their experiences and lessons learned in dealing with this type of event:
• New technologies deployed on the grid can provide utilities with advanced remote control and monitoring capabilities. Smart meters and smart grid sensors can now provide utilities with accurate outages without waiting for customers to report.
• Advances in weather forecasting combined with better modeling of damage caused by these events could enhance the ability to plan responses and restore power faster and at lower cost.
• Many people now depend on smartphones to manage their lives. This same cellular network can be used for grid equipment to automatically report status and for restoration crews repairing the grid to communicate about their efforts. However, the cellular networks would need to be operative.
• During Sandy, utilities received tweets with pictures of downed power lines, yet there was no way to tie pictures to equipment and locations. Computer systems run by utilities can be adapted to use social media feeds to automatically update system conditions and reduce delays in utility response.
• New policies, rules and operating procedures are needed to safely leverage customer-owned power sources during major outage events.
Similarly, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) recently hosted a forum on Capitol Hill to highlight the need for a national approach to post-storm reconstruction, focusing on preparedness and rebuilding. Participants included legislators, congressional staff members and business leaders whose mission is to employ smart technologies that can make power systems safer, reliable, resilient, and more readily restored following a disaster like Sandy. Supported recommendations are outlined in NEMA’s publication “Storm Reconstruction: Rebuild Smart.”
“While no disaster is predictable or preventable, we do have the tools and technology to mitigate the damage and distress that storms like Sandy can cause,” said Evan R. Gaddis, NEMA president and CEO.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee, stressed that, while it is necessary to repair the damage resulting from Superstorm Sandy, it is essential to consider future storms in the rebuilding process and integrate smart technologies that can make our power grid more resilient.
“Funding put into mitigation now is more important than ever,” King said.