(Image courtesy of Ready.gov)
The United States power infrastructure is at risk from storm surge and coastal flooding. Power plants and substations in coastal areas are susceptible to hurricanes and other types of storms that can push water inland in a large and damaging storm surge. Our power grid is currently unprotected to flooding and other damage during such events.
Areas like Charleston, S.C. who in 1989 took a nearly direct hit from Hurricane Hugo are primarily at risk. That category 4 storm flooded most of the city with 20 foot storm surge. Those floods were eclipsed just this month Charleston suffered tremendous flooding during extraordinary rains and high tides in October 2015.
Widespread blackouts can occur even when only a few pieces of the electric grid are exposed to flooding. We’ve seen it happen with Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, Rita and many other coastal storms.
These threats to our electrical system is an issue that needs to be tackled by utilities, grid operators and regulators. Some regions, such as the New York City which was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, have started planning for future storms.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
Utilities are starting to consider protecting their electric equipment and power plants by constructing barriers around them or even elevating them. The alternative is to start moving facilities away from the coastline.
Clean energy is also set to play a big part as a viable solution. Renewables like wind and solar coupled with energy storage can provide cities with power when the electric grid goes down. Clean energy solutions offer an electrical system that is flexible and can remain available when we need it most.
Renewable resources like solar and wind power when coupled with storage systems such as batteries are able to provide even when the energy grid goes dark. Cogeneration plants are another viable option as they capture thermal energy as well as produce electricity from a single fuel source.
Microgrids, which are self-sustaining electrical systems that generate all the energy needed for consumption within a geographical region are currently a hot topic in the energy industry. They have the flexibility to be connected with the regular electric grid, yet choose when to break away to become self-sustaining. During outages, microgrids are a viable solution that will strengthen our current infrastructure, as well as protect coastal regions that are susceptible to floods and storm surge.
The increasing threat of storm surge and flooding to our coastal electricity grid continues to be a major cause for concern. Clean energy solutions will ensure a reliable electricity supply as they reduce global warming emissions from fossil fuels.
Sr VP – NAEA
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