Florida Power & Light Company last week tested the response of more than 3,000 employees to Hurricane Alexa – a virtual Category 2 storm that was simulated to make landfall in Naples and exit the state along Florida's Treasure Coast – during the company's annual storm drill. This multi-day event is a critical component of the energy company's extensive year-round training to ensure employees are ready to respond when their customers need them the most. As part of the week-long exercise, the company showcased new technology that would be utilized during a storm response, including an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) and an amphibious robot, both of which provide the company greater visibility of damage and speed restoration in the aftermath of a hurricane.
"With more than 10 years having passed since the last hurricane impacted Florida, we are constantly pushing ourselves to improve upon our storm response and restoration capabilities," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "Today's virtual exercise is designed to stress test the broader FPL organization, implementing lessons learned from storms in recent years, including Super Storm Sandy. Key to success is exercising our people, systems and restoration strategies under intense simulated conditions, while at the same time, engaging with our local, state and federal partners, vendors, contractors and peers within the energy industry. All of us stand ready to respond together as one state and one team to meet the challenges that severe weather can cause. Simply put, it's this type of coordinated response that our customers expect and deserve when crisis strikes."
Representatives from the Florida National Guard, U.S. Department of Energy, partner energy companies and the Florida Division of Emergency Management, including Director Bryan Koon, observed and, in some cases, participated in the storm simulation at FPL's Command Center in Riviera Beach, Fla.
"Paths of hurricanes don't adhere to county lines or service area boundaries, but instead often slice through large sections of the state. That's why collaborating and training together, like we did today at FPL's drill, is not only beneficial for FPL customers, but for all Floridians," said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon. "FPL's commitment to strengthening its partnerships at the local, state and federal level and with its peers at Duke Energy and Tampa Electric better position all of us first-responders as we work to restore normalcy to the state safely and as quickly as possible following a storm."
During the drill, FPL demonstrated how emerging technologies are changing the way field employees assess damage in the aftermath of a storm – from drones that can survey overhead power line damage, to amphibious robots that can provide access to unsafe, flooded areas. In addition, the company's mobile application puts damage information at the fingertips of restoration crews after a storm passes. Today, restoration activity that was previously recorded manually on paper is entered into smart phones and tablets, resulting in a more efficient and accurate process.
FPL also demonstrated how crews work more efficiently in the field to speed restoration. The company's storm response fleet, including its Mobile Command Center and Community Response Vehicle, allows field employees to operate remotely in the hardest hit areas. The company's network of smart meters allows response crews to use a simple computer "ping" to confirm lights are back on before a crew leaves a neighborhood, replacing the traditional door-to-door approach.
"We've taken unprecedented steps to transform our energy infrastructure into what's become a national blueprint in the years since the last hurricane struck our state more than a decade ago," said Silagy. "By investing more than $2 billion to build a stronger, smarter, more storm-resilient electric grid, we are delivering energy to our customers they can count on in good weather and bad."
FPL also showcased its Lightning Lab, where a team of engineers tests the company's equipment with up to 2 million volts of electricity to help find innovative solutions to better understand and reduce lightning's impact on the electric grid.
Since Hurricane Wilma struck Florida more than a decade ago, FPL has made significant enhancements to its electric grid including:
- Strengthening more than 600 main power lines, including those that serve more than 700 critical community facilities such as hospitals, police and fire stations and emergency communication systems;
- Placing underground more than 450 main power lines;
- Installing 4.8 million smart meters and 36,000 intelligent devices along the electric grid using advanced technology that helps detect problems and restore service faster when outages occur;
- Clearing vegetation – a major cause of power outages – from more than 135,000 miles of power lines; and
- Inspecting all power poles – more than 1.4 million – and upgrading or replacing those that no longer meet our standards for strength.
"We are better prepared today to respond to a hurricane than ever before, strengthening or undergrounding more than 1,000 power lines, more than half of which serve the critical community facilities and agencies that play a vital role in getting our state back up and running in the aftermath of a storm," said FPL Senior Vice President of Power Delivery Manny Miranda. "As Floridians, we understand hurricanes are devastating forces of nature and power outages will occur; however, the significant investments we've made in recent years have placed FPL in the best possible position to restore power to our customers faster following a storm."
FPL customers benefit from the strengthened power lines throughout the year, which have shown a 40 percent improvement in everyday performance. The upgrades have helped FPL achieve the best system reliability in Florida and among the best in the nation – nearly 50 percent better than the national average.