One physical threat to the electricity infrastructure is severe weather. When weather causes power outages, there are financial costs, as well as political, reputation and social risks, especially when the disruption is prolonged. We cannot prevent power outages, but we can take storm-hardening measures to reduce the damage from a major event, improve recovery time when a disruption occurs, reduce the number of outages and lower the costs to customers.
In 2014, AEP implemented new design criteria to strengthen, or harden, the distribution system. We now design new and replacement poles to withstand wind speeds and ice accumulation that exceeds the National Electrical Safety Code requirement for our service territory. In 2015, more than 95,000 poles were designed using the new storm-hardening criteria across the AEP system.
These hardening measures are predicted to increase the strength of electric structures by at least 25 percent with nominal increase in cost. We also developed an assessment tool to help us determine where to deploy capital funds to maximize the benefits of grid-hardening initiatives. Among the criteria we are using include the number of customers served; the type of customer (how many on a particular circuit are considered “critical” customers, such as hospitals and nursing homes, law enforcement agencies and water or wastewater facilities); the age of the poles; and the average duration of outages. This allows us to put our resources to work where they deliver the most value for our customers.
Nationally, and within our service territories, hardening, reliability and grid modernization initiatives have garnered support from state utility commissions.
AEP is among other utilities participating in the Electric Power Research Institute’s three-year Grid Resiliency Project. Started in 2013, the project will provide our industry with tools and strategies to improve the distribution system’s ability to withstand severe weather events.
EPRI’s research ranged from physical failure modes of components to documenting strategies such as storm restoration and vegetation management, to applying modern technologies such as circuit automation. In addition, the research looked at the costs/benefits of placing overhead lines underground and developed a model to help prioritize resiliency investments.
The Grid Resiliency Project benefited AEP by providing views of practices across a large, representative cross-section of the industry, and increasing our understanding of what occurs when distribution lines are coated with ice and snow or impacted by high winds and falling trees.
AEP focuses on three areas to manage service restoration during large-scale power outages:
- Use of the Incident Command System (ICS) – This nationally known crisis management tool is a standard for responding to small and large emergencies and incidents.
- Technology improvements -- Introducing new tools and improving our systems to better manage workload during major events and to provide more timely and accurate information to customers and other stakeholders.
- Process improvements – Standardizing our assessment process and implementing a number of restoration process enhancements that will improve how we manage our crews and other resources.