In mid-February 2021, Winter Storm Uri wreaked havoc across the United States, bringing an unprecedented cold outbreak and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The extreme cold event, characterized by record low temperatures, power outages, and infrastructure failures, exposed vulnerabilities in the electric utility sector.
In a recent DTN webinar, Brad Nelson, Meteorologist and Risk Communicator, examined these vulnerabilities in detail and explained how utilities can use this information to improve resilience in future. This article provides a useful summary and suggested next steps for utilities looking to improve their resilience in the face of extreme cold.
Winter Storm Uri
Winter Storm Uri, with its wave of polar vortex-induced cold, resulting in temperatures plummeting 25 to 50 degrees below normal across the U.S., Canada, and parts of Mexico. Extreme cold events like Uri are often triggered by disruptions in the polar vortex, leading to a sharp drop in air temperatures over a large area which often persists for days or even weeks. These two elements present particular challenges to utilities; not only is there no respite from the temperatures that inevitably cause problems to supply, but as neighbouring regions are also likely effected, potential partners are unable to help.
Winter Storm Uri demonstrated perfectly just how challenging extreme cold can be. The storm caused significant strain on the electric grid, leading to power outages, frozen equipment, and infrastructure failures. This in turn led to a shortage of gas, disruptions in gas plants, and a significant impact on renewable energy sources like wind farms.
Texas, in particular, faced a severe crisis, with the power grid teetering on the brink of total collapse. The grid was forced to introduce rolling blacks out to prevent a catastrophic failure.
Lessons Learned and Recommendations
While the impact of Winter Storm Uri on utilities could not have been prevented, the disruption could in some cases have been mitigated by focused cold weather planning. The following suggestions are a great place to start.
Invest in Outage Prediction Models
In the lead-up to a storm hitting, knowledge is power. Utility companies can leverage advanced outage prediction models to understand the magnitude and timing of outages. By using a modelling system – like the DTN Storm Risks Analytics – you can mobilize staff and equipment and have everything in place for the best possible outcome.
In the lead-up to a storm hitting, knowledge is power.
Grid Resiliency Investment
It’s vital to invest in the resiliency of your grid ahead of time, specifically with cold weather in mind. Designing power lines, transformers, and substations to withstand extreme cold, along with insulation and heating elements, can prevent freezing and icing on essential equipment. Regular inspections and maintenance address vulnerabilities.
Weather Monitoring and Forecasting
Accurate weather forecasting is a must – and partnering with meteorology experts to stay ahead of weather challenges gives you the best chance of anticipating problems before they happen. Find an accurate forecasting partner that you trust and ensure you monitor continuously for extreme cold events – keeping in mind the impact events in other regions might have on your operations.
Emergency Response Planning
Robust emergency response plans are essential. This includes fuel supply management, grid resiliency strategies, and clear communication and coordination within the organization. This plan should be thought through step by step and discussed and agreed with all parties involved.
Training and Preparation Exercises
Conducting regular training exercises can help prepare staff for extreme cold events. This ensures a swift and coordinated response when faced with challenging conditions.
Engaging in community outreach initiatives to educate the public on the potential impacts of extreme cold events can really help improve the situation in challenging times. Encouraging customers – both in businesses and at home – to prepare for cold weather energy challenges can improve the situation immeasurably when a storm strikes. Be sure to provide full guidance on safety measures too.
Winter Storm Uri serves as a compelling reminder of the vulnerability of utility infrastructure to extreme cold events. Utility companies must learn from these experiences and invest in comprehensive strategies to improve resilience.
As climate change continues to influence the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, effective management of weather-related risks like extreme cold is more important than ever.
Utilities can make better-informed decisions with new, right-time, utility industry-interpreted weather intelligence through products like DTN Storm Risk Analytics. With real-time insights, utilities can confidently anticipate, prepare, and respond to events using timely data modeled specifically for the utility industry.