• Natural Disasters
  • Energy Cloud
  • Demand-Side Management
  • Analytics

Distributed Intelligence in Disaster Preparedness Needed after Active Hurricane and Wildfire Season

Jessie Mehrhoff
Oct 31, 2019

wildfire

The 2019 hurricane season has seen more storms than most, with 14 named storms as of late October, compared to an average of 12. Fortunately, the season has been less active, with fewer of these hurricanes making landfall. Headline-making wildfires also have not been kept at bay, despite large-scale power shut-offs by utilities in wildfire-prone areas. 

Despite quieter headlines and improved emergency preparedness, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2019 is the fifth consecutive year with more than 10 weather and climate events costing over $1 billion each. In October, energy professionals gathered at Itron Utility Week in flood-ready Marco Island, Florida, where a central theme emerged: distributed intelligence is a necessary component of utility disaster preparedness. 

Distributed Intelligence as an Emergency Response Tool

Navigant Research, a Guidehouse company, considers distributed and intelligent energy as two megatrends emerging in the Energy Cloud scenario, with both affecting customers, policy, technology, business models, and operations. The Itron conference bolstered this claim by stressing the need for distributed intelligence across electricity, gas, and water infrastructure. Fortunately, with trends toward grid modernization, integrated distributed energy resource (DER) programs, and improving utility customer engagement, all signs point to a growing need for distributed, intelligent technologies.

Energy Cloud Scenario Planning

Energy Cloud Scenario Planning

(Source: Navigant)

Disaster Preparedness as Reliability and Resiliency

A critical distinction between reliability and resiliency is emerging in emergency response and other utility dialogues. Energy reliability refers to the absence of grid-related failures and continuous access to power. Resiliency, on the other hand, refers to the grid’s ability to bounce-back in the event of an outage. According to Itron, “a resilient grid can mean the difference between a brief outage and a lasting, catastrophic failure.” 

Fortunately, efforts to boost both energy reliability and resiliency with distributed, intelligent resources can improve utility customer engagement and satisfaction in multiple ways:

  • Demand-side management: These efforts include energy efficiency and demand response, which can provide utility customers with additional value streams while helping to reduce grid strain. Further, these reliability-improving programs may lead to increased positive communication between the end-customer and utility, improving the utility’s relationship as an energy management ally. 
  • Distributed and intelligent resources: These types of resources have the potential to create points of strain on the energy grid. By developing incentivizing rates or automated platforms to improve the flexibility of intelligent DER technologies, utilities can turn DER technologies into grid assets. 
  • Grid-edge analytics: These are often used to indicate that computer technology inside advanced metering infrastructure or other DER technologies can provide locational data used in analytics computation. In the event of an outage, backup batteries can keep the technologies live and communicating with back offices so first responders can get to the source of the problem, improving resiliency by shortening the time until the power is restored. 

The Itron report, Disaster Preparedness, notes that 44% of utility end-customers believe that their utility is “somewhat prepared” for disaster, while 30% believe the utility is “slightly” or “not at all prepared.” By engaging with customers through distributed and intelligent energy resources, utilities can work to shift these perceptions and improve their J.D. Power and Net Promoter Scores—even in the face of increasing numbers and intensity of natural disasters and climate-related threats.