In mid-January of this year, Winter Storm Jasper, as it was labeled by the Weather Channel, blasted through the southeastern states, leaving tens of thousands of people without power and bringing snow and ice to the south—impacting states from Texas to Virginia. Here in the Carolinas, ice is a real threat, as it is heavy enough to knock out power. To this, I ask: What exactly are we doing to ensure our infrastructure is resilient to such storms?
In order to answer this question, let’s first look back to February of last year. The Feb. 13–17, 2021 North American winter storm, unofficially referred to as Winter Storm Uri by the Weather Channel, was a major winter and ice storm that had widespread impacts. On the afternoon of February 15, more than four million customers were without power across the Lower 48, with more than 3.5 million of those being in Texas.
In response, Governor Henry McMaster here in South Carolina requested to review the storm and a report was conducted for the South Carolina Office of Regulatory to study if this state’s utilities were prepared to withstand winter storms. We have a governor that says he wasn’t going to be like Texas.
I recently had an opportunity to sit on a call that detailed the report on the resiliency of South Carolina’s electric and natural gas infrastructure against extreme winter weather events. The research aimed to be methodical and used a framework with 11 specific indicators in the assessment, according to Jamie Bond, project manager, Guidehouse Insights. These indicators include emergency management planning, risk management, staffing and mutual assistant support, asset management and inspections, operational protocols, system design and hardening, stakeholder engagement, public communications, automation, situational awareness, and regulatory compliance.
Evaluators concluded that the South Carolina energy system and utility providers are adequately prepared to prevent and respond to outages caused by ice storms and winter weather events.
Ed Battaglia, large electric distribution evaluation lead, Guidehouse Insights, says utilities have fully integrated instant command structure and have trained their emergency teams and personnel, which is essential to preparedness. “They’ve also made good use of incorporating supporting technologies to help them in not only the operations side during event but taking advantage of technology to communicate status with customers, which is really important.”
The report did make several final recommendations to continue to enhance the utilities and prepare for cold weather events including:
- Strengthen existing procedures when it comes to planning and coordinating to prevent extended interruptions in natural gas and electric service
- Evaluate BPS reliability under more extreme conditions than required by NERC and SERC and include extended cold weather conditions and loss of a greater number of transmission lines.
- Consider updates to include specific adverse winter weather risk evaluation and mitigation actions to distribution integrity management plans, transmission integrity management plans, and operations and maintenance manuals and design standards.
- Require utility provider participation in adverse winter weather emergency drills and/or tabletop exercises with state and local emergency management agencies int their respective emergency management planning cycles.
- Consider the feasibility of a costs/benefit study of resiliency and reliability enhancements and, as part of that study, consider whether there are any federal funding opportunities.
- Actively participate in regional and national industry groups.
- Assess the interdependencies between electric power and other key infrastructure such as water, wastewater, telecommunications, transportation, etc., to identify and address additional extreme cold weather and event response vulnerabilities.
Throughout the next quarter, it will determine next steps. Here is my question. On the call, I asked how it is planning to integrate the IoT (Internet of Things) and other technology into the grid for the future. Battaglia says it is recommending looking at the entity as it applies for creating a risk management framework, so it can be centered based on that risk.
“It’s really centered on four areas,” he says. “One is of course prevention. Can you prevent a certain thing happening and can you invest the right thing there? The next one is, okay, the event occurs, can you mitigate its impact or lessen its impact when it hits you? The third one is restoration. It happens, you got to let it happen because it’s better that you invest in the faster restoration piece.”
The last piece is preparedness. How do you prepare the organization to make sure that you’re really prepared in the case those events happen? “As applicable, the Internet of Things or the devices that you used to monitor could be an investment to help in those four buckets,” he adds. “What we see prevalent in the industry, a lot of the Internet of Things is really aiding operations, but now they’re going toward getting more information now to help in preparedness or prediction of the asset’s life, right?”
Perhaps, but will this be enough? People are still losing power, and I am not sure we can be making statements that we aren’t going to be like Texas. In fact, the weekend of January 15 McMaster called a state of emergency and an estimated 90,000 residents lost power in S.C. The very following weekend the state also recorded a record 2-in. of snow and coupled with freezing ice. We need to recognize climate change is happening and we need to be properly prepared.
To be frank, it was even more disconcerting that when I posed the question about the IoT the people in charge, making key government decisions openly admit they don’t know what the acronym means. And as you see by the response, it doesn’t appear to be part of this solution. While Guidehouse can talk about the IoT, the Internet of Things is critical for prevention monitoring, preparation, disaster management, and offers incredible realtime visibility of past and present data, creating better collaboration to address emergency response. And this is all essential as we address the challenges of the critical infrastructure.
Let’s be clear, this indicates we might not be moving fast enough to make the necessary changes to our infrastructure across the board. And at the pace climate is changing, respectively, we need people who understand that we don’t have time to wait and we need to act now. If we don’t step up our action plan our communities, cities, and those that inhabit them will look greatly different tomorrow.
Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #IoT #sustainability #AI #5G #cloud #edge #futureofwork #digitaltransformation #green #ecosystem #environmental #circularworld