What does it take to survive hurricane season each year for utilities—especially those in the Southeastern United States? It takes a lot, including well-trained utility workers, partnerships with other utilities and great working relationships with third-party electrical contractors experienced in line restoration. It also requires plenty of preparation work in advance of hurricane season, with these efforts focused primarily on “grid hardening”—making the grid more resilient and reliable so that hurricane-related damage is likely to be less devastating and widespread.
Hurricane season runs June 1 through November 30 annually. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast 13–20 named storms for 2021, including 6–10 hurricanes.
Here are examples from two utilities in the Southeast that exemplify these strategies particularly well.
In June 2021, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) recognized Duke Energy, Charlotte, N.C., with its Emergency Response Award for Duke’s work in recovery and assistance following hurricanes Isaias, Zeta and Eta in 2020. The company also received EEI’s Assistance Award for supporting peer utilities along the Gulf Coast during hurricanes Sally and Delta, and tropical storms Laura and Marco.
Duke Energy crews restored power to nearly 1.5 million of its customers in the Carolinas and Florida after three hurricanes. Partnerships with other utilities also provided additional resources to shorten response times and restore electricity to Duke-served communities. In addition, Duke offered its help in return to utilities along a storm-ravaged Gulf Coast.
“This collaboration is increasingly important as utilities face storms that are increasing in frequency and severity,” Duke stated.
In advance of hurricane season, Duke has embarked on a multi-year improvement strategy to strengthen its electric grid, making it more resistant to power outages from severe weather and more resilient for a faster recovery when storms strike. Examples of these efforts include upgrading poles and wires, placing outage-prone lines underground, managing vegetation near power lines, protecting essential systems in flood-prone areas and installing smart/self-healing technologies that can automatically detect power outages and reroute power to other lines to restore power faster.
In addition, Duke continues to improve its storm response plan and leverage new technologies and process improvements to help crews restore power faster. Strategies include the use of “damage modeling” to better predict outage impacts and deploy resources ahead of the storm, digital tools and drones to help assess damage, smart meters that improve outage detection and assist damage-repair crews and communication tools to keep customers better informed.
Another Southeast utility gearing up for the 2021 hurricane season is Entergy, based in New Orleans and has a particularly comprehensive program to prepare for, and respond to, hurricane season.
“We have experience repairing the damage major storms have caused in recent years, especially during last year’s record-setting hurricane season,” the utility stated. “We are ready to take appropriate action before, during and after severe weather.”
Based on its previous experiences with storm response and annual storm exercises, Entergy is constantly updating and improving its storm damage restoration operations, relying on its internal process of continual planning, preparation and training, called Operation Storm Ready.
“And an early step, when facing a storm, is to prepare to bring in extra personnel to support the effort,” the utility stated.
Entergy has devoted many resources in advance to “storm-harden” its system, including aggressive preventive maintenance programs, using steel transmission structures near the coast, elevating flood-prone substations and installing “isolation” devices on lines to reduce outages.
However, above all else, Entergy emphasized that its number one focus is safety of utility workers, outside contractors and customers.
“As safety is always the highest of priorities, and as we assess the damage, we’ll begin restoring service where it is deemed sound to do so,” Entergy noted.
The utility added that, while restoring power is a priority, keeping its workers safe from worsening weather conditions may limit its ability to restore service as quickly as it would like: “We are committed to keeping our employees safe and sheltered during dangerous periods caused by high winds, flooding and other severe storm conditions,” it stated.
In terms of the restoration process itself, Entergy plans by prioritizing essential services such as hospitals, nursing homes, fire and police departments and water systems, as well as the utility’s equipment supplying electricity to large customer bases.
After that, it stated, “we will concentrate our resources on getting the greatest number of customers back the fastest.” Here, repairs begin with major lines to the substations, then the lines and equipment serving neighborhoods, businesses and homes.
Along with typical storm preparations, Entergy’s employees will take additional steps to protect themselves and customers against COVID-19: “These may include traveling separately, adjusting crew staging locations and increasing the use of drones. Additionally, crews will continue to practice social distancing, and we ask that customers do the same.”