Florida Power & Light Co. last week tested the response of more than 3,000 employees with two hurricanes impacting its service area during the company's annual storm drill, which for the first time, coincided with a statewide hurricane exercise involving nearly all other state energy companies and emergency operations centers.
"Mother Nature's strength and unpredictability was on full display last year, testing us and many Floridians," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "Our employees were prepared and ready to respond because of the constant training, including activities such as this week's storm drill. I am encouraged by the nearly $3 billion we have invested in our energy grid, which benefitted our customers by helping prevent nearly 150,000 service interruptions during Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew. Were it not for these improvements, these storms would have resulted in a much longer and more costly restoration."
This weeklong event is a critical component of FPL's extensive year-round training to ensure employees are ready to respond when their customers need them the most. As part of the exercise, the company worked with other energy companies and local jurisdictions that participated in HurrEx, the state's annual hurricane exercise.
As part of the exercise, Hurricane Hawkeye, which mimicked 1975's Hurricane Eloise, made landfall on May 1 in Florida's Panhandle. Two days later, Hurricane Donna followed the same path it took 57 years ago – striking the Florida Keys as a Category 3 hurricane, looping through the western and central parts of the state and exiting north of Daytona Beach as a Category 1 storm. The company was tested, along with the rest of the state, to respond and restore power to customers throughout its service area.
Representatives from the Florida National Guard and Florida Division of Emergency Management observed and, in some cases, participated in the storm simulation at FPL's Command Center in Riviera Beach, Fla.
"The vast majority of our customers live within 20 miles of the coastline, so I can't stress enough how important it is for our customers to prepare," Silagy said. "In fact, notwithstanding the 2016 hurricane season, our back-of-the-envelope math still suggests that some 40 percent of our customers have yet to experience the full force of a hurricane. This week's drill is a reminder to all of us that we need to prepare to ensure that we are able to respond and restore power once it is safe to do so – just like we did last year and any time there is a severe weather event."
During Hurricane Hermine in September 2016, FPL crews worked safely and quickly to restore service to 100 percent of its customers impacted by the storm within 24 hours of Hermine's passing, and impacted customers experienced an average outage duration of less than three hours. Investments in smart grid automated switches also helped prevent 30,000 customer interruptions.
During Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, FPL restored nearly 99 percent of customers affected by the end of two full days of restoration following the hurricane's exit from its service area. Smart grid automated switches on FPL's system prevented 118,000 customer interruptions, and hardened distribution main power lines performed 30 percent better than non-hardened main power lines. Furthermore, no FPL transmission poles and hardened main power line poles failed.
While investments in building a stronger and smarter energy grid demonstrated benefits to customers during Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, FPL reminds its customers that every storm is different, along with the damage that comes with it, and urges them to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.
Drill highlights technology used during last year's storms
During the drill, the company showcased technology that was used during last year's storms. Combined with more storm-resilient infrastructure and a rapid restoration effort, this technology helped prevent outages and crews restore power to customers faster:
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones that surveyed overhead power lines and equipment for damage;
- Mobile applications that put damage information and restoration activity in the hands of FPL restoration specialists;
- Automated switches, which aided in preventing 148,000 customer interruptions of service;
- The Mobile Command Center and Community Response Vehicles, which allowed staff to direct restoration efforts in the hardest hit areas; and
- The company's network of smart meters, which allowed restoration crews to remotely confirm that power was restored before a crew left a neighborhood.
"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," said Manny Miranda, FPL senior vice president of power delivery. "We continue to learn from past storms and make enhancements to the energy grid to make it stronger, smarter and more storm-resilient."
During the drill, the company also set up "mini staging sites" to demonstrate how the real ones operate during storms. Staging sites serve as critical resource hubs to move crews and equipment closer to storm damage. Operating like small cities, staging sites offer crews a place to rest, eat, refuel and stock up on supplies. FPL activated 26 staging sites during Hurricane Matthew, part of the largest pre-staging effort in company history.
In addition, FPL showcased robots that can provide assessments at one of the company's 600 substations.
More than a decade of investments help restore customers' service faster, more efficiently
Since 2006, FPL has invested nearly $3 billion to strengthen its electric system, including:
- Hardening more than 700 main power lines serving critical community facilities and services, such as police and fire stations, hospitals, 911 centers, grocery stores and gas stations;
- Clearing vegetation – a major cause of power outages – from more than 150,000 miles of power lines;
- 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 (approximately 150,000 poles inspected annually); and
- Installing more than 4.9 million smart meters and 66,000 intelligent devices to help predict, reduce and prevent power outages, and restore power faster if outages occur.
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.