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Modeling Storm Outages

New tools for enhancing utility preparedness and response.

Fortnightly Magazine - October 2013
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beliefs about likely event effects. The result is to institutionalize the knowledge of storm events, thus leaving the utility less dependent on the expertise of a very small number of individuals. 

From the customer’s perspective, the two most important benefits are the potential for faster restoration times, and improvement in the utility’s ability to provide estimates of those restoration times. Storm modeling can enhance the utility’s ability to forecast outages, affected equipment, and damage to the electric system. The knowledge gained from the better predictions enables actions that, in turn, produce the desired benefits.

Mutual aid organizations might also benefit from a shared storm model. A region-based storm model could be utilized to share information on expected damage and customer outages, and collectively recognize where the greatest resource needs are likely to be during a major event, thereby optimizing the dispatch of resources across the entire storm area, with the resulting benefit to the greatest number of customers in a region. In the same way, emergency management agencies (EMAs) might also benefit from a storm model. Electric utilities clearly are focused on how a major event affects the electric system, while EMAs have a broader set of concerns, including multiple utility types ( e.g., electric, gas, water, telecommunications, etc.), as well as the effects on transportation, food and water supplies, and traffic management. A model to address multiple elements of infrastructure could help the EMAs be better prepared and more responsive in a major event, including helping to understand the interactions of the effects on different infrastructure elements.

Finally, in the aftermath of a major storm, a storm model could be used in analysis of a utility’s performance, to help improve future performance, and to support what have become customary investigations by regulators into the performance of utilities. Just as a regulator could use a model as a standard for comparison, the utility can use the model to demonstrate its successes in the response effort. It also can highlight unique circumstances that previously haven’t been encountered by the utility ( e.g., the flooding that occurred along the Northeast coast during Sandy) and demonstrate its effect on a utility’s ability to restore service.

Utilities and other stakeholders face increasing pressure to advance and enhance their storm preparation and response capabilities. These capabilities extend across a wide range of activities and include functions such as logistics, communications, infrastructure hardening, organization, and planning. Sophisticated storm modeling can enhance many of these areas and, as research advances, there are clear benefits to adopting new tools that will augment decision making during critical climate events.

Endnotes:

1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2012 dollars,  inflation at CPI; http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events

2. Economic Benefits Of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience To Weather Outages , Executive Office of the President, August 2013.

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