Opinionated: Plan to Power Through Weather-Related Outages

14 Nov 2017

By Kevin Stenson

Weather has impacted California significantly this past year, particularly wildfires fed by heavy winds. Like any major weather event, there are things that went well and things that can be improved.

With California being the most populated state in the nation and the state’s energy demand being the second highest, it’s important for utilities to plan ahead for weather conditions.

A fire like the one in Northern California wine country fueled by Diablo winds was produced by unusual weather patterns that would have been unique a few years ago.

That’s why analyzing the West Coast’s weather patterns and identifying weather trends in advance can provide insight and help set utilities up for success. When it comes to weather planning, it is better for utilities to be proactive rather than reactive when bad weather hits. There are many steps utilities can take to reduce power outages and continue to provide reliable service.

While weather is constantly changing, there are certain patterns that develop and help guide meteorologists to make predictions.

Looking at specific weather patterns throughout the season can highlight which areas can expect damage from certain weather conditions. For example, if it is a drier season in California, high winds are likely to fuel a wildfire. Early awareness of the state of the climate can provide insight and ensure there are enough resources on hand to manage a situation.

Meteorologists have collected years of intelligence in order to predict weather trends in certain regions. The data show that instances of severe weather have increased six-fold over the past 20 years and are likely to continue to increase.

Meteorologists can utilize past insights collected to better predict future severe weather events. Experts can turn to research to see if conditions are drier or wetter than last season and offer more robust solutions and apply data sets to potential weather threats in the region. In the future, weather experts will be able to look at insights collected from the wildfires this year to identify patterns and other insights to help utilities better prepare for these weather events.

Making important weather-related decisions is challenging, especially when you don’t have all of the information. That’s why meteorologists with access to years of weather data to back up their predictions are needed to save utilities and their ratepayers money and to improve service reliability. Meteorologists can conduct research on past weather events to analyze the impact they have had in the past, and help utilities plan for the future.

Proactively identifying assets or infrastructure in need of inspection can tremendously reduce the number of power outages. It is important to understand how weather risks impact assets or have the potential to be affected by severe weather conditions. Utilizing weather pattern and trend data can help utilities with risk assessment for infrastructure, especially if there is potential for certain severe weather conditions in a region. For example, if heavy rainfall or high winds reoccur in a region where they might not have occurred 10 years prior, aging infrastructure may not be able to withstand the conditions, whereas newer infrastructure may not be affected.

Assessing the infrastructure beforehand and pinpointing assets that are at risk will ensure utilities are able to better react to ever-changing weather patterns.

A risk assessment of each asset also helps meteorologists pinpoint where to monitor weather in small areas to help utilities manage infrastructure that is exposed to new weather conditions. Each risk assessment is customizable depending on the utility’s information that is entered into a decision support tool to ensure expert knowledge is applied to individual needs. Risk assessments also facilitate proactive inspections that can lessen power outages by identifying faulty equipment and repairing it before it fails. This will ultimately cut the cost of building new infrastructure, save resources long term and sustain reliability for energy in the area.

Having anecdotal knowledge and quantifying it for operational planning can help utilities in California prepare for weather events other regions don’t have to worry about.

It is important to have a local understanding of weather conditions such as Diablo and Santa Ana winds. It is equally important to understand weather conditions on the coast and how they differ from weather inland and how population might play a role in that.

The bottom line is that the U.S. is consuming more energy than ever before and extreme weather brings several disruptions to the utility sector each year. Power outages can be a great and costly inconvenience to the industry.

In the state of California where there are unique weather patterns, it is important for utilities to prepare in advance for region-specific weather challenges. In addition to having accurate weather information, preparation is key to ensure there are enough resources available when severe weather hits and that crews have the direction they need to effectively do their job.

Kevin Stenson, Sales Manager-Energy Weather Meteorologist, DTN is responsible for working with energy customers in T&D, generation, O&M and trading in the Western United States.

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