How utilities can shore up the grid during hurricane season


The United States is one week into hurricane season. And while electric customers receive numerous preparedness messages to weather storm outages, there are many things that coastal utilities can do to shore up the grid to reduce a hurricane’s impact.

“Unlike residents buying up batteries and generators, utilities must take a year-round approach to upgrade and prepare equipment,” says Kelcy Pegler, CEO of FlexGen, an energy storage software ecosystem.  “Although it’s a major resilience challenge, hardening the grid is important for extreme weather conditions. But hurricane season is nearly guaranteed to pack a punch for utilities up and down the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico. So planning for risk mitigation is of utmost importance.”

What does it mean to harden the grid? Hardening the grid simply means making it more robust so it can withstand stronger storms. That means modernizing infrastructures like underground lines and stronger poles. Energy storage systems (ESS) are becoming an essential part of this equation – ESS can jump-start generators that help restore power.

Utilities in Puerto Rico have been working to harden the territory’s grid since 2017 after the destructive impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Irma’s aftermath left two-thirds of residents without power. Shortly after, Maria destroyed much of the country’s grid, leaving the entire island without power for an extended period, endangering hospitals, water service and other critical infrastructure.

“Martin Energy’s first stored energy project coupled with a combined heat and power (CHP) system in Puerto Rico will enhance energy resiliency and eliminates the impacts of any grid-related issues, resulting in daily operational reliability to our industrial clients,” says Marcus Martin, CEO of Martin Energy. “We are pleased to provide our customers throughout Puerto Rico with reliable and environmentally friendly power solutions.” 

Best practices for utilities

In addition to hardening the grid with more modern equipment and backup power sources, there are three best practices that utilities should follow to manage storm fallout effectively:

  • Track and analyze. Log each storm and capture data to understand where you are most vulnerable, how you responded and where you need improvement. Specificity will help inform decisions and prioritize resources.
  • Budget. Once you know where priorities are, it’s easier to plan, justify and pass a budget whether you need board approval or a bond issue. The budget would include necessary equipment and human capacity.
  • Ready your resources. When the hurricane hits, utilities need to be ready to manage the crisis as it’s happening. Depending on the severity of the storm and its impending damage to infrastructure, a plan should include priorities and the workforce needed to restore power as quickly as possible.

Irma struck Florida, too. But that state’s utility had prioritized grid hardening with a $3 billion price tag after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. As a result, the Irma restoration effort was four times faster, according to some reports.

“With the 2021 season upon us, the immediate commitment would be tracking and analysis – unless there are quick equipment fixes,” says Pegler. “The information from the analysis will guide a roadmap for hardening the grid and making it more resilient and shortening restoration time.”

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