The July 19th and 20th United States nationwide heat wave has slowly subsided but summer storms and triple digit heat indexes in New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Washington DC, Chicago, and dozens of other cities strained the capacity of the energy grid. These scorching temperatures were accompanied by the news that June was the globe’s hottest in 140 years of recorded history. While utilities prepare for the increased demand as customers lower their thermostats in the summer, grid planners are examining how they can meet this type of increased demand caused by climate change in the future while still trying to incorporate more renewable generation.

“We design our system to meet our customers’ needs during the peak summer season… if something were to occur to reduce the amount of energy available, we have a number of options,” said Duke Energy spokesperson, Neil Nissan.

With 7.7 million customers in 6 eastern and midwestern states Duke Energy is one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S. and they will have a variety of challenges related to the impact of climate change. From hurricanes, to summer storms, and now rising temperatures Duke Energy has been working to modernize their grid to simultaneously ensure reliability and resiliency even in the most challenging times.

Another utility that was particularly impacted this past weekend was DTE Energy, serving 2.2 million customers throughout Michigan. 590,000 customers were impacted as the heatwave produced multiple severe storms on Friday and Saturday. Wind gusts exceeded 70 miles per hour in some areas, making this the worst storm this year and one of the largest since March 2017. The storm brought down more than 2,000 power lines, and power wasn’t restored to all customers until Wednesday.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience as our crews work 16-hour shifts around the clock to restore power,” DTE said in a press release. “More than 1,100 employees and contractors are in the field and nearly 750 workers from as far as Georgia and New York have joined our restoration efforts with additional crews arriving throughout the day today.”

DTE kept crews on standby to restore power, but they also proactively reached out to customers to help them prepare for extreme weather. In a Thursday, July 18th email to all customers they gave a series of helpful tips to “beat the heat”.

 

Running the air conditioning at 70 degrees or lower during these extremely hot days can be an expensive proposition for many customers and for utilities as they have to turn to peaker power plants. Proactive engagement helps build a rapport with customers by demonstrating that they care about the customers well-being and wallet.

Aggressive communication and keeping crews on standby conditions during extreme whether events are important steps, but they will not be sufficient to truly address the challenges utilities face around long-term reliability as the climate changes. The most effective long-term strategy to ensure affordable reliability is continued grid modernization. As utilities in North America begin to deal with  climate-induced challenges on a more regular basis, they can look to Australia for a roadmap on how to deal with some of the most challenging consequences.

One of the biggest dangers to utilities  in Australia is the risk of brushfires. Endeavour Energy NSW has recently begun using a spatial data technology known as light detection and ranging data (LiDAR) to prevent brushfires. LiDAR compiles a very accurate three-dimensional model of the network and surrounding vegetation, which can then be analyzed in much greater detail on a geographic information system (GIS). Endeavour Energy is using LiDAR for more than vegetation compliance. With an advanced analysis of the spatial data they are also able to optimize a preventive maintenance program.

 

Endeavour Energy has been able to create priority lists to see which areas requires immediate attention and predict how long before that part of the network became high-risk. The data can identify and project vegetation that will become high-risk within two years, which can streamline a work flow around pruning or full removal of tree.

As weather events like last weekend’s heat wave and summer storms become more common in the U.S. GIS can be a crucial tool to ensure that the power stays on, customers stay cool, and electricity bills don’t skyrocket.

For more information on GIS please see our Ebook “Unlocking the Full Potential of Data: The Power of Where”