Utilities Utilize Collaboration, Technology During Extreme Events

Extreme weather events are increasing, and utilities and customers alike are feeling the impact. According to Climate Central, the United States has experienced a 67% increase in major power outages from weather-related events since 2000, a trend predicted to continue as extreme weather events increase in frequency.

“Utilities spend a lot of time during the year researching strategies and techniques to prepare for weather events, as well as evaluating their own risks,” noted Jacklyn Ulban, Unitil manager of business resiliency and compliance. “But with the increase in weather events, utilities have definitely become more reactive than they have in the past.”

Ulban, along with DTN experts Renny Vandewege, vice president of weather operations, and Nic Wilson, strategic product manager for the energy sector, discussed some of these challenges and improvements for utilities responding to severe weather in a recent DTN webinar. Surprisingly, one of the topics Ulban said was a benefit and a hinderance is the increased weather warning time during extreme events.

With advanced weather models and improved technology, major events like hurricanes can be predicted as early as seven days before impact. While this gives utilities more time to prepare for events, it also means they may be competing for restoration assistance, especially for events that affect a large area. According to Ulban, these advanced warnings are triggering utilities to request restoration crews earlier, even before the weather event enters the region, which limits the pool of available resources. For a smaller utility like Unitil, that means being “judicial in staging crews to make sure resources are in the right spot.”

While using predictive weather analytics can help utilities of all sizes prepare and pre-stage crews, it is the larger utilities that are more likely to use this capability. According to a recent report from DTN, 70% of utilities that increased their investment in weather prediction solutions serve more than 1 million customers. Ulban believes that the larger organizations have more budget and need to invest in innovation.

“Bigger utilities are best practice setters, but even some of the smaller utilities are really moving their innovation forward with technology and we are catching up,” said Ulban.

For example, utilities are starting to combine accurate historical weather data with outage history and stage data to assess how well the system responded and where to invest in hardening the grid.

“No one has the magic crystal ball, but the better data that you have enhances your operational decision making for planning,” added Ulban.

Ulban, Vandewege and Wilson also discussed other outcomes utilities have experienced in response to extreme weather, such as building resiliency tailored to the utility and collaboration among utilities. For the full discussion, listen to the webinar. Learn more about how the utility industry is preparing for and mitigating the impact of severe weather in the DTN report, “The Impact of Severe Weather on Utilities”.