Extreme weather: Utilities at a tipping point
High-impact weather events are becoming more frequent and severe around the world. Regular, mid-tier events such as heavy rainstorms, high winds and seasonal flooding are also increasing in number. These two trends in combination are ratcheting up operational stress on transmission and distribution utilities. And utility executives around the world know it: 92% of the more than 200 respondents we surveyed as part of our Digitally Enabled Grid research expect extreme weather events to increase, and 83% see this trend as a threat to grid stability.
For years, electric utilities focused largely on grid reliability, however, that approach alone has become inadequate for utilities and for society at large, especially when one considers the bigger picture. When a utility is facing extreme weather and a secondary event, such as cyber-attacks, earthquakes, geomagnetic storms, warfare, wildfires, and, as we now see, pandemics such as COVID-19 occurs, the situation can quickly move from bad to worse. While utilities clearly understand the risks, few are very well-prepared to deal with the impacts of extreme weather.
A resilience strategy prepares utilities to handle and quickly recover from more frequent and severe disruptive events, whether from extreme weather, cyber, earthquake or—indeed—a pandemic. Far from shifting the focus away from reliability, it seeks to verify that utilities can expand their definition of reliability while also developing the additional, supporting capabilities they will need to provide an elastic response in the face of stressed or extreme conditions.
The complicating factor is that resilience is, to date, something of an amorphous concept in the electric utility distribution business.
Developing an effective resilience strategy
The first step is to establish a firm technical basis for resilience, while also developing the additional supporting capabilities needed to provide an adaptable response in the face of extreme conditions.
Critically, an effective resilience strategy persuades stakeholders—from regulators to customers—that developing and maintaining the necessary capabilities to handle such events is worth significant upfront, ongoing costs. Stakeholders will need to understand that supporting greater capabilities may not appear to pay off; success means the absence or minimal period of interrupted services.
Homing in on three strategic imperatives will help executives develop greater resilience.
Establish the foundations of resilience
- Develop leadership in resilience within and outside the business.
- Underpin investment and performance targets with clear regulatory mechanisms based on risk and societal value of resilience.
- Develop a robust quantitative basis for resilience risk analysis and investment decision making.
Build the resilient network
- Build new system flexibility capabilities through digital solution deployment.
- Utilize artificial intelligence and emerging technologies to enhance outage prediction and system restoration strategies.
Explore emerging resilience services
- Support the utilization of end-user resilience solutions.
- Develop differentiated network resilience solutions to support poorly served communities and those with high resilience requirements.
Resilience as a Remit
The challenge of becoming more resilient may be formidable, but it is also unavoidable. Those utilities that do not act now are putting their organizations—and their customers—in jeopardy.
Start now by considering the big picture. Use the three elements of resilience—the foundations, the network and emerging solutions—to map out and execute your own resilience strategy.
Supporting resilience more directly is a significant part of the industry's growth trajectory. Utilities must convince policymakers, customers and other stakeholders to make resilience part of the businesses' remit.