Recent Superstorms Spotlight the Need to Address Aging Electrical Infrastructure

In this week’s Industry Perspectives, Schneider Electric’s Mark Feasel explores how the recent particularly destructive hurricane season put a spotlight on the need to address aging electrical infrastructure. 

Electrical Infrastructure

Mark Feasel, VP of Schneider Electric’s Electric Utility segment and Smart Grid business for Schneider Electric in the U.S.

This year’s hurricane season has been unprecedented. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria have had a major impact on human lives—families and communities are suffering greatly from the consequences of displacement and damages stemming from natural disasters.

When these situations occur, electricity availability is a critical step in restoring a sense of normalcy to the affected people and communities.

However, disaster recovery efforts become strained when operating within the framework of an aging electrical system. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure grades our country’s energy delivery system a “D+”.

Disaster recovery efforts become strained when operating within the framework of an aging electrical system. Click To Tweet

Our power system is further strained by the demands of a new energy landscape, with the forces of digitization, decentralization and decarbonization creating a new reality of power generation and distribution, one for which our current system is not optimized.

While an overnight overhaul of America’s aging electrical infrastructure is neither practical nor realistic, we do have an opportunity to re-build smarter when major chunks of the grid fail, and microgrids have an outsized role to play. Historically, resiliency has been achieved through redundancy, diversity, and efficiency. Microgrids refine and enhance that approach through modularity and digitized solutions.  Microgrid technology supports a next-generation grid that can still incorporate the positive aspects of our existing electrical infrastructure while increasing the grid’s efficiency, resiliency, safety, security and sustainability.

When large-scale outages occur, microgrids can minimize the impact on consumers by serving critical load with local generation, and allowing energy providers to anticipate outages through advanced analytics and configure the system for a minimized impact and quicker recovery.

When large-scale outages occur, microgrids can minimize the impact on consumers by serving critical load with local generation, and allowing energy providers to anticipate outages through advanced analytics and configure the system for a minimized impact and quicker recovery. For example, they offer operators the autonomy to island the grid, shed non-critical load, and prepare generation sources for dispatch ensuring that their facility or consumers do not experience an outage or poor power quality conditions. At the same time, in our new reality of power generation and distribution, grid management software enables the integration of renewable energy, harmonizes distributed zones of control to further protect against outages, and extends the life of existing electrical assets. Following a superstorm, microgrids can also initiate a smart rebuilding process that speeds the grid’s recovery time and restores power with as minimal downtime as possible.

Times of catastrophe highlight the importance of efficiency and resiliency within our electrical infrastructure, but it should always be a priority. Increased stress on the electrical grid due to extreme weather and urbanization will continue to take place, so with that in mind, there must be collaboration from technology providers, utilities and regulators, as well as businesses and communities, to create meaningful change. By adopting microgrids and other electrical infrastructure upgrades, we can leverage technology for system transformation—introducing new levels of resiliency, speeding up recovery time after an outage and even preventing catastrophic failures. This a call to action for our entire community. This new digital world of energy—with more decentralized generation, a two-way flow of decarbonized energy and more digitization for flexible, dynamic energy management—gives us an opportunity to co-create the future of the electric system.

Mark Feasel is vice president of Schneider Electric’s Electric Utility segment and Smart Grid business in the U.S. 

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