Smart grid benefits delivered during 2017 Hurricane Irma

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Benefits of nearly $1.7 billion in the form of avoided customer interruption costs during Hurricane Irma are estimated from smart grid investments in Florida by NIST.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) investigation reveals that the expected number of interruption hours during that hurricane was relatively lower for regions of the Florida distribution grid that invested more in interoperability enhancements, all else being equal.

Such interoperability enhancements are represented by advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) as a proxy and leading indicator of investment.

The integration of AMI with billing systems, customer information systems, outage management systems and distribution management systems has been shown to improve the AMI value proposition, the overall level of interoperability and to have increased the efficiency of the post Hurricane Irma recovery efforts, the report notes.

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Hurricane Irma made landfall in September 2017 and travelled the length of peninsular Florida over several days. The storm brought extreme winds, torrential rains, flooding and electricity interruptions to an area with tens of millions of residents.

Over the previous quarter century, utilities have invested billions of dollars towards a more resilient power grid. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the question emerged as to the efficacy of these investments in mitigating outcomes such as extended outages.

The study report notes that with the deployment of smart grid technologies, utilities are able to employ new, more autonomous restoration strategies. As such automated responses preempt the need for manual restoration, customer interruptions may shorten from hours or days to fractions of a second.

The study analysis assembles hourly datasets for the 67 Florida counties containing variables for the number of sustained interruptions, i.e. longer than 5 minutes, and a metric for the local wind speed. The share of customer accounts interconnected with AMI is assumed to be constant during the one month study period.

The analysis estimates the benefits of interoperability investments to the operational resilience of the Florida grid to entail 112 million fewer customer interruption hours, which it conservatively values at $1.7 billion.

The speed with which utilities can integrate new data-intensive strategies into their operations, harnessing interoperability to drive performance improvements, will in part, reflect the success of regulated firms in demonstrating the prudence of these options to create and protect public value streams, says the report.

“AMI, a leading indicator of follow-on investments in the smart grid, does not prevent the initial component outage that leads to a service interruption. Instead, automated systems for network protection, outage management and restoration enable utilities to maintain service continuity through network reconfiguration even when confronted with a major hurricane.”