By Paul Orr, Senior Program Manager, Utility Products and Systems, NEMA
It seems every few weeks we hear of some out-of-control wildfire or the threat of an impending extreme weather event. In late 2020, we heard the news of Australia dealing with devastating wildfires. Presently, California and Washington state also were dealing with wreckage from wildfires. Most recently, Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans.
These horrific weather events cause catastrophic damage and impact lives, land, and property. Especially hard-hit are electrical utilities and transmission and distribution grid infrastructure. Presently, Louisiana is recovering from major transmission outages caused by Hurricane Ida that may impact utility customers for up to a month. Thankfully, as Louisiana and other states rebuild, there are solutions to reinforce the power grid to make it more resilient to future disasters. NEMA Members make technologies that bolster resilience, enhance system monitoring, and automatically respond to wildfire and extreme weather phenomena.
NEMA has developed a NEMA Resilience Assessment Toolkit to help utilities and local jurisdictions identify technologies that can enhance power disruption readiness. A few examples include:
Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL)—This technology rapidly reduces the power in 22kV, multi-wire distribution powerlines when it detects phase-to-earth faults on the electricity network.
The REFCL works like a large safety switch and reduces the likelihood of a fire starting if a powerline comes in contact with the ground or a tree limb. After a few milliseconds, the device checks if the fault is still present. If it is temporary, then power is restored to the line. If it is a continuing fault, the device shuts off the power to all three lines to protect against fire risk and make it safe for electric utility crews to fix.
This means that an electric utility can maintain power to homes and businesses during a wildfire while substantially reducing the fire risk from the fault.
Smart Meter Voltage sensing and detecting technologies—Smart meters can inform electric utilities about whether the power to a specific meter is on or off. This information can be used during wildfires for firefighting operations and to ensure that power to at-risk locations has been cut.
Drones—After a hurricane or wildfire has occurred, utilities can deploy drones instead of helicopters to inspect potentially unsafe or remote areas without putting workers or firefighters at risk and improving resiliency and network restoration operations.
To read NEMA recommendations for utilities on maintaining, building, or rebuilding an electrical system and performing an assessment of electrical resilience, see the NEMA Resilience Assessment Toolkit or contact Paul Orr, Senior Program Manager with the NEMA Utilities Division.