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Severe weather, coupled with an aging and overstressed electrical infrastructure, is having a dramatic impact on the U.S. population.

In late 2012, Superstorm Sandy’s devastation left 132 people dead; more than 8 million people in 16 states lost power; subway tunnels were inundated with water; 305,000 homes in New York City and 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey were damaged or destroyed; sewage plants in were crippled with hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage flowing into waterways; and four New York City hospitals shut their doors.

Rebuilding after any major storm is a formidable challenge. The core principal of any major reconstruction effort should be to “rebuild smart,” ensuring that reconstruction funds maximize the deployment of technologies to mitigate future power outages, save lives, and protect property.

Resilient and reliable power is critical for first responders, communications, healthcare, transportation, financial systems, water and wastewater treatment, emergency food and shelter, and other vital services. When smart technologies are in place, power outages are avoided and lives, homes, and businesses are protected.

Good examples are the deployment of microgrids, energy storage, and cogeneration. As reported in the MIT Technology Review:

  • Local power generation with microgrids showed the benefits of reliability during Superstorm Sandy.
  • The Food and Drug Administration’s White Oak research facility in Maryland switched over to its onsite natural gas turbines and engines to power all the buildings on its campus for two and a half days.
  • Princeton was able to switch off the grid and power part of the campus with about 11 megawatts of local generation.
  • Similarly, a cogeneration plant at New York University was able to provide heat and power to part of the campus.
  • A 40MW combined heat and power plant in the Bronx was able to provide electricity and heat to a large housing complex.1

The 400-plus member companies of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and its staff of experienced engineers and electroindustry experts—spanning more than 50 industry sectors—stand ready to assist industry and government officials when rebuilding after a disaster.

The remaining pages of this overview section describe key technologies highlighted in this document, noting their ability to contribute to a more resilient electric grid.

Smart Grid Solutions

Rebuilding the electric power system should incorporate the use of Smart Grid solutions—information and communications technologies, such as smart meters and high-tech sensors, to isolate problems and bypass them automatically. These technologies provide resilience—quick recovery from extreme weather and other outages.

In much the same way as new information and communications technologies are reshaping how we work, learn, and stay in touch with one another, these same technologies are being applied to the electric grid, giving utilities new ways to manage the flow of power and to expedite restoration efforts.

By integrating information and communications technologies into the electric grid, utilities can not only minimize the extent of an outage, but also immediately identify customers who are impacted, shunt electricity around downed power lines to increase public safety, and enable faster restoration of services.

For example, when disturbances are detected in the power flow, modern circuit breakers can automatically open or close to help isolate a fault. Much like a motorist using his GPS to find an alternate route around an accident, this equipment can automatically re-route power around the problem area so that electricity continues to flow to other customers. Smart Grid solutions also enable utilities to protect the electric grid from cyberattack.

Smart Grid issues and options discussed in this guide:

Microgrids, Energy Storage, and Other Distributed Generation systems

When power interruptions occur, microgrids, energy storage, and other distributed (i.e., decentralized) generation systems can ensure continued operation of critical facilities.

A microgrid, sometimes referred to as an electrical island, is a localized grouping of electricity generation, energy storage, and electrical loads. Where a microgrid exists, loads are typically also connected to a traditional centralized grid. When the microgrid senses an outage, it disconnects from the central grid and uses its own generation and storage capabilities to serve the local electrical load.

In critical situations microgrids can direct power to high priorities such as first responders, critical care facilities, and hospitals.

Microgrid generation resources can include natural gas, wind, solar panels, diesel or other energy sources. A microgrid’s multiple generation sources and ability to isolate itself from the larger network during an outage on the central grid ensures highly reliable power.

The effectiveness of microgrids is further enhanced through energy storage. Storage systems not only provide backup power while the microgrid’s generation sources are coming online, they can also be used to regulate the quality of the power and protect sensitive systems like hospital equipment that may be vulnerable to power surges during restoration efforts.

Microgrids offer additional advantages. Surplus power from microgrids can be sold to the central grid or stored for later use. In combination with energy storage and energy management systems, microgrids can also provide ancillary services to the broader electric grid such as voltage and frequency regulation. Microgrids also reduce dependence on long distance transmission lines—reducing transmission energy losses.

Also of increasing importance, microgrids can mitigate the effects of cyberattacks by segmenting the grid.

Microgrid, energy storage, and distributed/decentralized energy systems discussed in this guide:

Backup Generation

Onsite backup power provides a reliable and cost-effective way to mitigate the risks to lives, property and businesses from power outages. For many facilities, such as assisted living facilities and nursing homes, there is a life safety aspect to consider. Other facilities, such as cell tower sites, emergency call centers, and gas stations, have far-reaching social impact and availability is critical. For businesses with highly sensitive loads such as data centers and financial institutions, the risk of economic losses from downtime is high. One way to mitigate these various risks is onsite backup power equipment.

Traditionally, diesel and natural gas generators are used to provide long-term backup generation. When combined with energy storage, continuous power can be provided without disrupting even the most sensitive medical and electronic equipment.

Backup generation issues and options discussed in this guide:

Wiring, Cabling, and Components

For critical equipment, cabling should be used that is resistant to long-term submersion in water, as well as oil and other pollutants potentially present in flood waters that may have an effect on less robust insulation materials.

In addition, there are classes of transformers, switches, and enclosures that are designed to be submersible. Initial equipment installation can be more expensive than non-submersible equipment, but can pay for itself in subway systems and substation environments that are susceptible to flooding.

Water resistant wiring, cabling, and components issues and options discussed in this guide:

Relocation or Repositioning of Equipment

Another smart use of rebuilding funds is relocating or repositioning of equipment or power lines. In light of the devastation caused by recent floods and storms, it is time to evaluate the location of critical infrastructure and identify situations where investing money today will protect vital equipment from future storms.

Relocation and repositioning issues and options discussed in this guide:

Disaster Recovery Planning

After a disaster, power should be restored to the most critical services first. In addition, planning efforts should carefully consider safety issues that can emerge when recovering from flooding.

Disaster recovery planning issues and options discussed in this guide:

1 Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Evaluation Final Report Completed for Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd), Black & Veatch, July 2011


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