According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, an average of 7.7 climate or severe weather events occurred annually between 1980 and 2021. Between 2017 and 2021, there were 17.8 events annually.
Changes in climate and weather patterns, as well as increasingly common severe weather events, underscore the need to storm harden electrical systems. The Bipartisan Policy Center identified more than $5 billion in grant funding to improve grid resiliency and prevent outages. As utilities, electricity providers and cooperatives seek funding to enhance resiliency, these entities also have an opportunity to enhance communications systems with smart devices to improve utility operations and reduce storm impacts.
Utilities and energy providers that have not integrated smart devices lack visibility into malfunctions or damaged assets. A lack of remote visibility requires repair personnel to be on-site to assess damage, reconfigure the grid and execute the necessary tasks to restore service. While smart devices won’t eliminate the need for repairs, they can alert operators to issues and sectionalize portions of a transmission and distribution system, increasing reliability by minimizing the impacts to the rest of the grid.
A smart grid with robust communications technology gives dedicated assets on the grid the ability to talk with other assets. Smart grid technology provides valuable information about the condition of the grid and can automatically alert the utility or electricity provider when outages occur. Similarly, if a transformer is struck by lightning, smart grid technology can identify the issue and reroute power, thus limiting the number of individuals impacted by a power outage.
This is no small feat. Bringing power back to a community after a hurricane or major storm can improve economic, safety and public health outcomes. After a natural disaster, a community needs power to restore clean water systems, transportation systems and commerce.
In addition to sectionalizing off portions of a grid to quickly bring power back to more residents, leveraging smart grid technology and a robust communications system improves visibility for utility engineers and operators. From a utility operations center, engineers and staff overseeing a grid integrated with robust communications technology can see where problems exist after natural disasters, reconfigure the network to provide service to more customers and send crews out to the site of the problem.
Some states require utilities to create and submit a storm protection plan. Utilities and energy providers operating in states prone to severe weather — such as hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards — are already investing in storm hardening, but it is often incomplete. Focusing on burying transmission lines or moving facilities to elevated ground is a first step, but investing in a robust communications system can get the lights back on much more efficiently.
Utilities and energy providers looking for grant opportunities to improve the grid in their community, region or state can apply for grants established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Under Provision 40101 of the BIL, approximately $5 billion is available to bolster and improve the power grid against extreme weather and other natural disasters.
Approximately $42 billion in funding will be distributed through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program to expand high-speed internet. Programs like this specifically address the needs of communities lacking broadband or high-speed internet.
Right now, utilities and energy providers in coastal communities can apply for grants to improve their power grid against extreme weather. Much of the technology used to deploy smart grid technology isn’t too different from the technology used by a commercial cellphone provider. Utilities and the surrounding communities seeking grants to strengthen and modernize the power grid against extreme weather can also explore high-speed broadband grants to improve internet connectivity.
Building out this connectivity isn’t just going to improve telehealth options and streaming services. It could be a matter of keeping the heat or lights on for more residents during the next hurricane, blizzard, flood or other natural disaster.
Natural disasters and extreme weather events can impact utility assets, and a utility’s ability to provide reliable service. Learn how we help utilities and energy providers prepare for natural disasters through modernization, engineering and construction of electrical systems.