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Safe, Reliable, Affordable and 'Resilient' Power is New Utility Mantra

Oct. 20, 2021
Electric utilities of all sizes have done well at meeting their initial goals of delivering safe, affordable, reliable power, but as we’ve seen repeatedly, in today’s world, that’s not enough.

For many years, electric utilities of all sizes have had one common mantra: Deliver safe, reliable and affordable power. Those who understand the intricacies of generating and delivering electric power know that reaching and maintaining that goal is not easy. Most people from outside the industry, who have little or no idea about how electricity is made or delivered, believe it’s easy because utilities have done a good job of meeting this common goal.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) latest reliability metrics, which were from 2017, include data that accounts for 94% of all U.S. customers. According to EIA’s report, excluding weather events, the average duration of customer interruptions in 2017 totaled about two hours for the entire year. In addition, the average customer experienced only one interruption. With extreme weather events such as hurricanes and winter storms included in the statistics, customer interruptions rose to an average of 7.8 hours and the number of interruptions increased to 1.4 per year. Considering there are 8,760 hours in a year, even with weather events included, the statistics are remarkable.

Customers involved in an extreme weather event likely experienced outage durations much longer than the average. Those outages often are the subject of local, national and sometimes even international news reports. They also are events that result in long days and sleepless nights for many utility employees – from lineman to CEOs.

As we’ve witnessed several times in 2021, electric utilities in the bullseye of these extreme weather events face mammoth challenges. In many cases, the resulting days. or sometimes weeks. without electricity exacerbate the economic and humanitarian crises caused by lack of power. It is during these extreme events that the importance of resiliency becomes clear.

Reliability and resiliency go hand-in-hand, but they are very different. Reliability is about keeping electricity flowing consistently over time and as the EIA data shows, utilities typically do a good job of that. Resiliency on the other hand, is much more difficult to achieve. It is about planning for, operating throughm and recovering from a major event, including not only extreme weather events but also malicious physical or cyberattacks.

The October issue of T&D World focuses heavily on resiliency. Even though this topic was selected and published in the magazine’s editorial calendar more than a year ago, it couldn’t be more timely. For the past several weeks, T&D World’s editorial team has been reporting on the major devastation electric utilities in Southeast Louisiana, parts of Mississippi, and the Northeast experienced when Hurricane Ida came ashore and traveled hundreds of miles inland. As I’m writing this, more utilities along the Gulf Coast, this time mostly those in Southeast Texas, are also repairing damage caused by Hurricane Nicholas, which made landfall just a little more than two weeks after Ida. Of course, we can’t ignore drought-induced wildfires in the Western U.S. that have been burning for months, damaging utility infrastructure as well as other property. In addition, I doubt that many have forgotten Winter Storm Uri and its devastating impact on electric utilities and their customers. If you need a refresher on any of these events, I invite you to search T&D World’s website; we covered all of them.

Extreme weather events are becoming more common. Many transmission and distribution grid owners and operators around the world are struggling to harden and create grids that will hold up to Mother Nature’s fury, as well as illicit hackers and cybercriminals. What does that sort of grid look like? Will it mean moving generation closer to load centers, creating islanded microgrids, undergrounding more transmission and distribution lines, increasing computing and data analytics power, or something else? The answer might be a combination of some or all of these, and likely will include solutions that haven’t yet been discovered or brought to market.

Our cover story, "Building Back Better," beginning on page 18, tells the story of LUMA Energy’s comprehensive plan to build back a reliable and resilient grid in Puerto Rico. The island territory is still struggling to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which hit in 2017 and destroyed most of its critical infrastructure. If you’re interested in learning more about how utilities like Duke Energy, Eversource and AEP are working to make their grids more resilient, be sure to read Field Editor Amy Fischbach’s article, "Storm Resilience and Recovery," beginning on page 26. And, on page 48, you’ll find another story from Ray Letourneau of Unitil Corp. about the utility’s best practices on storm preparedness and restoration.

In addition, T&D World is presenting Black Sky Hazards and Grid Resilience, which is part of our Power Up virtual event series. It will offer a lot of educational content in the form of webcasts and podcasts. The virtual event is free for electric utility employees and will occur Nov. 16-17.

There is no doubt that grid resiliency is and will continue to be for some time one of the industry’s most important topics. Our goal at T&D World is to provide informative and educational content that will help electric utilities uncover and implement solutions and technologies to improve grid preparedness and resiliency.

Electric utilities of all sizes have done well at meeting their initial goals of delivering safe, affordable, reliable power, but as we’ve seen repeatedly, in today’s world, that’s not enough. The new mantra is delivering safe, affordable, reliable, and resilient power and that’s a tall order.

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