We asked readers if they thought the industry had done its best in storm preparedness. About 35 percent of responders believe that we’ve done about all we can reasonably do within the bounds of cost-effectiveness. About 29 percent believe we could do more to storm harden the system, particularly as we go about replacing damaged and destroyed assets. But they also believed that a major redesign was too costly to consider. So, putting those two groups of responders together, we conclude that the majority, 64 percent, of poll responders don’t think we should do much more to prepare for future storms.
That surprised me, because in my years working for a utility and consulting in the industry I never ran into any design or operational area that couldn’t be somewhat improved. And, in the case of replacement, the incremental improvement cost was small. So, with that chip on my shoulder I wrote the editorial “No Time to be Smug: Electric Utilities Are Under More Scrutiny than Ever Before.”
The poll had other responses: About 16 percent were in favor of massive undergrounding. Another 16 percent thought that government and regulators should lead the way in an all-out effort to improve storm preparedness, particularly in the more storm prone areas.
Several readers left clear and thoughtful comments:
“The best overall T&D solution will begin with upgraded infrastructure design in disaster prone areas, implementation of microgrids, local power production and storage. While mass undergrounding is cost prohibitive, above ground design can be upgraded at a fraction of undergrounding cost. “
“… we need to think out of the box - the best solution is to construct an electric grid with lots of microgrids and renewables. Bring the energy resources as close to the load as possible! But this will require a different operating and planning paradigm for utilities. But that is what is called Active Distribution System Planning and Operations.”
“Power companies have neglected basic duties like keeping trees and brush away from their lines and poles. There are far too many instances of trees growing right up into, next to, or against wires and poles. Then they act surprised when a big storm takes down the wires. If there are to be any new Federal regulations, they ought to be to make utility companies MAINTAIN their existing physical plants.”
“… upgrades aren't needed everywhere. Why not pick the most storm prone areas and focus on them. It makes no sense to have some sort of ‘national’ upgrade run by the government.”
I also received several emails from readers that expressed similar thoughts.
Bottom line of opinion seems to be:
- We could do a better job of maintaining and managing existing lines, making sure that we have adequate clearance from potential tree breakage.
- Mass undergrounding is way more costly than adequate above ground upgrades. In addition, underground cables bring additional challenges during flooding and ground damage.
- To keep costs down upgrades should be focused on areas subject to the most damage.
- System vulnerability might be reduced with careful deployment of microgrids and distributed generation and storage resources.
There’s still time to add to the conversation – Reader Poll and Comments