Increasing intensity and frequency of weather events, particularly those that have recently happened, such as bushfires in Australia and California, floods in India, typhoons in South East Asia, are placing “increased operational stress” in electrical networks.
The sad truth is that utility companies are not prepared to meet the risks from these natural disasters – a finding from a report by Accenture and featured by Infrastructure Magazine.
Tony Histon, Managing Director of Transmission & Distribution for Accenture’s Transmission and Distribution Practice in Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East, shared his insights about the report.
He says that increasing threats in the electric utility sector would need a paradigm shift in their management approach to cope with these impending risks.
Accenture surveyed 200 utility executives worldwide. They found that utilities recognize these increasing threats, but only a small percentage are prepared to meet the problem.
Among the regions, the Asia Pacific has the highest number of respondents (94%) who expect more extreme events to happen in the next ten years. Yet only a quarter of the respondents feel that they can manage the risks.
According to Histon, the changing weather patterns and new threats like cyber-attacks and pandemics show that we cannot rely on historical data nor the traditional approach to overcome new and changing scenarios.
“In order to overcome these threats, the response requires a shift in mindset from reliability to resilience. Unlike a reliability strategy, a resilience strategy is focused on an analysis “of system-wide failures where multiple events may happen concurrently and there’s a requirement for the system to adapt with more flexibility to preserve supply to critical customers and maintain electricity and energy services with minimum impact to end-users.”
“This is managed through engineering solutions as opposed to building and establishing redundancy. Resilience also requires consideration, not just of how to respond when an event happens and how quickly we can repair or replace assets, it requires complex planning prior to an event. It requires analysis after the event occurs with a feedback loop to understand how we can adapt systems and improve analysis to prevent events from occurring subsequently.”
In the article, Histon proposes a three-pronged approach to resilience:
- Establish the foundations of resilience, including developing leadership in resilience, performance target based on risk and resilience, and creating a quantitative basis for resilience risk analysis.
- Build the resilience network that includes building system flexibilities, investing in redundancy, distributed energy source, microgrids, and customer participation, using emerging technologies to enhance system management and network hardening.
- Explore emerging resilience that includes supporting end-user resilience and developing differentiated network resilience solutions to support poorly served communities. An example of this is supporting a remote community to store and generate its power while providing them with a means for additional power supply when there is an increase in demand.
Flexibility is also key to a resilient electricity system, according to the Accenture report. Focusing on making assets flexible proves to be cost-effective and delivers long-term resilience.
Histon says that “the challenge for achieving a more resilient mindset is how it is measured and incentivized.”
Present mechanisms only apply to and incentivize reliability metrics, and it often excludes large scale natural disasters which are high-impact, infrequent events but unavoidable all the same.
Utilities need to work now on building resilience or suffer the consequences later.
Developing and implementing effective network resilience is a core component of infrastructure risk management.