Goodnight Irene: outages linger in the East

Did 'smart' technology hasten recovery?

Phil Carson | Aug 29, 2011

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One reader wrote in yesterday morning to suggest we gauge the benefits smart meters might (or might not) play in the recovery efforts by utilities up and down the East Coast in the wake of Hurricane and then Tropical Storm Irene.

The challenge, I suppose, would be to determine precisely where the outages occurred, where smart meters and infrastructure are deployed and the nature of each restoration effort in a vast patchwork of outages. Perhaps not the easy task our correspondent suggested. Perhaps regulators will press the case when the last substation has been mucked out or utilities will step forward with their stories.

Still, I'd welcome our readers' comments on the role smart meters could play or did play in outage detection and restoration efforts after Irene raked the region. In short, what is the theory and the practice in this storm-caused incident? Any takers?

We know that the storm in its various stages knocked out power to more than five million people from North Carolina to Maine, led to 29 fatalities in 10 states and caused perhaps double-digit billions of dollars in damage. Another 250,000 homes lost power in Quebec as the storm tailed off across eastern Canada. The storm caused more damage through heavy rain inland than through storm surges on the coast, according to various accounts. As the destruction did not quite live up to its advanced billing, the hand-wringing began over whether the storm had been "over-hyped" by the media.

A solid overview from yesterday may be found in "Utilities Scramble to Restore Power to Millions in Irene's Wake," by Dow Jones Newswires.

Based on the news coverage yesterday, I suspect that meters could give utilities fairly precise insight into the swaths of their service territories lacking power. Automated switching could isolate faults, making field work more efficient and restoring service to many fairly swiftly. Swift restorations did appear to be taking place for large numbers, but time will establish how many outages will linger into the coming weekend and beyond.

To inspire readers to provide any restoration theory and/or anecdotes, I provide just a smattering of news accounts of the outages in various locales, running from south to north.

"Myrtle Beach Extends Ad Campaign After Hurricane" revealed that tourism officials were back at work yesterday, ensuring that "South Carolina's beaches emerged from their brush with Irene relatively unscathed last weekend." Officials got the word out: "the beach is in good shape for the fall golf and shopping seasons." (The "fall shopping season"? Maybe I need to get out more.)

In Wilmington, North Carolina, a spate of births led the news - 17 babies were born at the Hanover Regional Medical Center over an 18-hour period Friday-Saturday that normally would see perhaps half that number, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Granted, not much smart grid-related fodder there.

In "Va Gov Tours Hampton Roads damage," we find that Gov. Bob McDonnell learned from Dominion Virginia Power that the storm caused the second-largest power outage in Virginia's history, knocking out power to 1.1 million customers. By late Monday, half the outages had been restored. Dominion forecast that all customers would have service restored by Friday.

According to "Power Outages Continue to Disrupt Mid-Atlantic," the Associated Press reported that Baltimore and surrounding counties had 300,000 without power on Monday, while the statewide total was closer to a half million. 

Here's a poignant headline: "Hurricane Irene's Wrath Sends N.J. Utilities Scrambling, 660,000 Still in Dark"

A headline alone will do it for Connecticut, too: "Hurricane Irene: 700,000 Without Power in Connecticut." 
 
In Rhode Island, 300,000 were without power in the National Grid service territory, the worst such outage in 20 years. One daunting detail: no traffic lights functioning in the state.

Again, as power is restored and damage assessed, it will be very informative to hear from smart grid proponents with systems in place just what digital technology could and could not do to aid in restoration efforts. Readers?

Phil Carson
Editor-in-chief
Intelligent Utility Daily
pcarson@energycentral.com
303-228-4757

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