“Americans are becoming painfully aware that U.S. energy grids are vulnerable to extreme weather events,” writes SFI External Professor Seth Blumsack in an op-ed for The Conversation. “Hurricanes in the east, wildfires in the west, ice storms, floods, and even landslides can trigger widespread power shortages. And climate change is likely making many of these extreme events more frequent, more severe or both.”
Power outages aren’t something we must simply accept in the face of increasingly strong and erratic weather, Blumsack writes, but rather, something utility systems can prepare for. However, this will require different approaches to thinking about resilience and different kinds of redundancy.
Read the essay “Long power outages after disasters aren’t inevitable – but to avoid them, utilities need to think differently” in The Conversation (September 24, 2021)
In most areas of the U.S., power grids tend not to fail unless they are pushed really hard. Utilities have built a tremendous amount of redundancy into energy delivery systems – extra generating capacity and transmission lines that can get electricity to customers if part of the system fails. That’s the right approach if major threats are things like equipment overloads on very hot days, or random equipment failures that could cascade into much bigger problems. . . .
Redundancy is a good strategy for keeping the grid stable following an unexpected malfunction of one or two pieces of equipment. It also allows utilities to do more of what they are good at – building, maintaining and operating power grid infrastructure.
But in the face of extreme weather events, the system needs a different kind of redundancy.