2020 was a record storm season that has utilities planning for next season. Electric utilities must get their systems as toughened-up as possible and be ready to restore power after a storm. Utilities are looking at 2021 and beyond. Some utilities will be more successful than others at maintaining power reliability. Their experience, their ability to plan and execute, make a difference. ECC should note that the Carolinas caught a break this year compared to other places that were hit, several times in some cases.

Hurricane Iota. November 16, 2020. Image: NOAA

How bad was this season? Here are some 2020 records:

  • Thirty named storms (previous record: 28 in 2005).
  • Ten named storms formed in September (old record: eight in 2002, 2007 and 2010).
  • Four major hurricanes formed in the Atlantic basin after October 1. Old record: two.
  • Twelve Atlantic named storms made landfall in the continental U.S. (previous record: nine in 1916).
  • Five named storms made landfall in Louisiana (previous record: four in 2002).
  • Hurricane Eta hit Nicaragua with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, the strongest November landfalling hurricane in Nicaragua on record. That record was broken 13 days later by Iota with 155 mph winds.
  • Hurricane Iota became a category 5 hurricane on November 16, the latest Atlantic calendar year category 5 hurricane on record.

It’s a new challenge for utilities, they have to up their game to prepare for more intense storms. “Along with giving multiple pages of the hurricane record book some new ink, the 2020 season also challenged conventional logic for some long-held assumptions about hurricane season, such as the pace at which a storm intensifies and the areas where certain storms may hit.” (Source)

More storms, more rapid intensification as storms hit, more land area affected by storms, and just look at this map of areas affected by tropical storms, some multiple times.

That means that utilities must factor-in these records and how to strengthen the grid.

ECC asked Dominion meteorologist Jeff Mock how he sees 2020 from the utility standpoint. “All forecasts ahead of the season projected a high number of storms in the Atlantic, but electric utilities understand it only takes one storm to create a large power restoration event. We continually prepare and train for all possibilities. As we have seen over the years, less active hurricane seasons can bring bigger impacts to our service area than we experienced this year.”

Hurricane Michael power restoration. Image: Dominion

Mock said there is always work for utilities to do in preparedness. “Regardless of the level of predicted or actual tropical activity, we continually invest in forecasting, emergency preparedness, and ensuring resiliency of the electric grid. Examples of creating resiliency of the electric grid include:

  • Grid hardening – materials and design, using new construction standards.
  • Undergrounding outage-prone sections of the grid. We can’t move the trees, so in some cases we move the line.
  • Strategically inserting technology on the grid which enhances visibility and enables automation in the restoration process.”

Hardening the system. New metal poles replace wood.

Utilities strengthen the grid by making it tougher for storms to tear-up the system and by “smartening up” the grid to make power restoration easier.

Importantly, it is more than the utilities that have a responsibility for strengthening the grid.

“State legislatures play a key role in the process of developing policies that contribute to energy security. They can signal the legislature’s support or opposition to certain policies and initiatives, like grid hardening or grid modernization.” That is from the report Hardening the Grid: How States Are Working to Establish a Resilient and Reliable Electric System.

State governments must be a partner in hardening the grid and protecting citizens. Can’t play politics.

Ultimately each utility must step-up in its planning and execution of storm prep, proving it has what is needed to keep customers powered-up and safe.

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Feature image: Hurricane Sally, September 2020. NOAA.