Hurricanes can bring a level of devastation that can be difficult to comprehend for those who haven’t experienced it firsthand - and no one knows this more than the utilities who must sink millions, or even billions, into repairing damaged assets when these hurricanes pass through.

Because of this, energy utilities in particular stand to gain a lot from remaining vigilant in this next off-season and being proactive in their preparation for future storms. The frequency of these “one in a hundred year” storms is rising, with 2017’s Hurricane Irma causing $50 billion in damage and the 4th largest blackout in US history. Using outdated strategies will mean that companies are missing out on more efficient and cost-effective recoveries from these storms. With the top priority being keeping customers and employees safe, utilities must also focus on providing reliable service and reducing costly outages.

But what steps can energy utilities take to attain these goals? Here are five ways that managers and planners can improve their preparation for future hurricanes:

1. Move from condition-based to predictive maintenance.

Have a look at the currently held assets and consider updates or alternatives that could harden them against hurricanes. Examples include reviewing pole or cable replacement strategies with more durable materials, guying power poles, and a more data-driven vegetation encroachment strategy. Energy utilities should also seek to adopt a process where they can document damages and share this information across the organization, so they can keep track of damages or unexpected resiliencies for future consideration. This can assist in assessing priorities and determining a strategy for predictive maintenance.

2. Analyze and update previous storm plans.

Improving the storm plan reduces stress and improves efficiency during a crisis. Consider switching to a tighter chain of command in these times, and perhaps designating specific roles in advance. Use scalable checklist technology that automatically triggers action based on forecasted events or weather alerts - this ensures nothing is missed and relieves the pressure of decision-making during the storm. The plan can include pre-determining areas that are at risk, allowing for better initial deployment of support or recovery efforts. Having a “Plan B” for less obvious issues is also a good idea, such as establishing a separate back-up call center for customers, in case the one within the at-risk zone goes down.

3. Determine how to organize and manage out-of-state linemen.

Establish a cohesive plan for managing the influx of out-of-state linemen that can arrive after, or even during, a big crisis. This includes considering factors such as accommodation, extra tools, team structures, communication strategies, and supplies. Make sure to have a unified system that notifies utility partners of aid requests when weather emergencies are impending, and also hold a detailed plan of available resources and accessibility to said resources depending on the level of need.

4. Use digital twins to model assets & test them under different scenarios.

Modern software solutions enable utilities to create digital twins of their assets and model scenarios from these - taking advantage of such innovations is a must to stay prepared for future volatile conditions. Scenario modeling can be used to identify weaknesses, test hardening strategies, and gain a more specific and accurate understanding of assets. Being able to test possible improvements without having to incur the cost of rolling out a strategy and finding out its ineffective is just one of the immediate benefits of introducing this technology.

5. Communicate to consumers in advance of, and during, recovery.

Communicating the process and priorities of recovery is key to mitigating customer frustration during storm outages. As Scott Aaronson, the vice president of Security and Preparedness for the Edison Electric Institute, states, “Customers understand that a storm came through; what they don't like is being left in the dark — both literally and figuratively.” When utilities have systems of communication across an array of channels in place, they can keep their customers up to date on the priorities of repairs. Doing so will help alleviate the tension and impatience customers feel during outages, as it allows them to have more understanding of the process that is going into the recovery work.

By implementing these five strategies, utilities can better prepare for the hurricanes and storms that the ’20s will bring. Companies like Florida Power & Light have reduced the length of storm outages by weeks by being proactive in preparing for the future. While man-made structures that can withstand the full force of nature are too costly for most utilities, improvements in recovery strategies mean that customer satisfaction can be kept at higher levels, assets will be tactically repaired, and power can be quickly and safely restored.

At Power Lines Pro, we’re committed to creating content to spark interest and ideas in the future of energy. We recognized the need for Digital Twins and Scenario Modelling in the energy utilities industry and created software to help you introduce these ideas into power line design.

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