Hurricane Season tests utility resilience


As the United States east coast reaches the peak of ‘hurricane season’, North and South Carolina have declared a state of emergency as they brace for Hurricane Florence to make land.

“This storm is too powerful and its path is too uncertain to take any chances,” said South Carolina’s Governor Henry McMaster when issuing the executive order. “We are mobilising the state’s resources to make sure we are prepared, and the people of South Carolina must not hesitate to prepare for the possibility of a hurricane impacting our coast.”

In Florida last week, more than 4,000 Florida Power & Light (FPL) customers lost power due to weather conditions caused by tropical storm Gordon.

According to the Miami Herald, Hurricane Irma in 2017, which devastated much of the northeastern Caribbean and the Florida Keys, forced communities to reassess what is needed to be more ‘resilient’ and self-reliant in the face of severe storms.

According to a report by Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava the disruption that residents endured after the storm “highlights the need to redouble our collective efforts to create a more resilient county.”

Her report included some of the following recommendations:

  • Residents must be able to secure gas more quickly, before and after the storm
  • Long before a storm hits, FPL can coordinate with residents and local governments on who is responsible for trees encroaching on FPL lines
  • FPL should give people more information about who gets electricity restored first and why
  • Cellphone service providers should be better integrated into the county’s disaster planning and communications systems
  • Miami-Dade should work to make all of its hurricane shelters pet-friendly.

Smart Energy International recently spoke with David Herlong, senior director of distribution at FPL, about the utility’s storm preparations and the lessons learned from extreme weather events.

FPL conducts an annual hurricane simulation drill, which sees 3,000 employees (one-third of FPL’s workforce) assume and practice their storm response roles.

Physical staging sites are set up, trucks are stranded, people moved to refueling and gathering stations and housing plans are formulated. The pseudo storm is given a name; and full simulations, including the logistics of restoring power, are conducted.

Representatives from local government, the Edison Electric Institute, the White House, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Energy are included in the simulation. The idea is to do more than just practice, but rather to stress test the plan, identifying pitfalls and risks before the real storm hits.

FPL has also undertaken the following grid reliance initiatives:

  • Strengthening 860 main power lines, including those that serve critical community facilities and services, such as hospitals, police and fire stations and other services necessary for communities to recover after a storm;
  • Clearing vegetation – a major cause of power outages – from more than 15,000 mi (24,000 km) of power lines each year;
  • Inspecting the company’s 1.2 million power poles every eight years, and upgrading or replacing those that no longer meet FPL’s standards for strength; and
  • Installing more than five million smart meters and more than 90,000 intelligent devices to help predict, reduce and prevent power outages, and restore power faster if outages occur.

Is it enough? As we enter peak hurricane season, the benefit of these and other preparations across the affected utilities will be put to the test.