Utility companies aren't preparing for the right kind of disasters

www.fastcompany.com
4 min read
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Extended power cuts after hurricanes or ice storms don't have to be inevitable, utilities just need to think about resilience a little differently.
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A busy 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is in full swing. The year's 18th-named storm, Sam, has become a hurricane. Meanwhile, some residents in the parts of Louisiana hit hardest by Hurricane Ida in late August are still waiting for their power to be restored. And thousands of Texas residents endured multiday outages after Hurricane Nicholas in mid-September.

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Americans are becoming painfully aware that U.S. energy grids are vulnerable to extreme weather events. Hurricanes in the East, wildfires in the West, ice storms, floods, and even landslides can trigger widespread power shortages. And climate change is likely making many of these extreme events more frequent, more severe, or both. As a long-time researcher of the electric utility industry, I've noticed that the U.S. tends to treat extended power cuts from natural disasters as an unfortunate fact of life. Even in states like Pennsylvania, where I live, that aren't typically in the path of major tropical storms, a surprising amount of energy infrastructure is potentially vulnerable to extreme weather. But in my view, major energy disruptions are not inevitable consequences beyond our control. Rather, the rising number of large weather-related blackouts in recent years shows that utilities, regulators, and government agencies aren't planning for these events in the right way. What's needed is an understanding that extreme weather events are fundamentally different from other kinds of power blackouts, and that resilience is not just about the grid itself, but also the people that it serves.

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How power companies plan for disasters In most areas of the U.S., power grids tend not to fail unless they are pushed really hard. Utilities have built a tremendous amount of redundancy into energy-delivery systems—extra-generating capacity and transmission lines that can…
Kristin Toussaint
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