Weather Risk Forecasting: Don’t Get Caught in a Blackout

As winter descends upon us, we must prepare for severe weather conditions. Harsh weather brings with it the potential for weather-related power outages, which can wreak havoc on power utility firms. Major weather-related outages cost the U.S. economy $20 million to $50 billion each year and have increased six-fold in frequency over the last 20 years, making severe weather the country’s leading cause of power outages. Climate change certainly isn’t helping this trend: volatile weather is becoming more prevalent across the globe, consequently increasing occurrences of weather-induced power outages.

When Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. in late October 2012, severe rain, storm surge and wind conditions led to billions of dollars in damage throughout 24 U.S. states. To prepare for the largest recorded Atlantic hurricane, Unitil, a public utility holding company headquartered in Hampton, N.H., turned to Schneider Electric for its top-rated weather forecasts. Although utilities knew well in advance of the approaching storm, the exact landfall location and expected rainfall and wind speeds varied among forecasting services.

What you might not know is that it is indeed possible for utilities to cross the line from responsible preparation into over-preparation, which can drive up costs paid for by the service region’s customers. Tom Murphy, environmental compliance and business continuity manager at Unitil, explained, “Some of the other models were predicting much worse conditions than Schneider Electric’s models, but we had higher confidence in Schneider Electric because of our experience with [its precipitation and temperature forecasts] and its level of forecast detail. By filtering some of the hype appropriately, we avoided over-preparing, which is ultimately a cost-benefit to our customers.”

As a result of working with Schneider Electric’s unique rating system of Estimated Impact Indices (EII), Unitil was able to get customers back online as quickly as possible after the storm. These efforts included mobilizing 15 internal line crews, 92 contractor line crews, 37 contractor tree crews and 48 damage assessment crews, among others. By making smarter operational decisions surrounding mutual assistance, Unitil saved millions in expenses while providing superior service to more than 170,000 customers.

As weather can have the single largest external impact on the power grid, investing in a weather risk forecasting solution is essential for utility firms. Being informed and well-prepared to handle potential outages can negate significant expenses, especially those caused by mutual aid calls. Schneider Electric has since made enhancements to its Energy Event Index forecasts that help firms better predict if and when mutual assistance is needed.

The Energy Event Index forecasts now feature a one to five, color-coded rating system that allows companies to assess threats related to weather events like high winds, heavy snow or ice. Other components of the solution include a regional alert email and enhanced visualization within MxVision WeatherSentry Online, the leading weather service for power utilities. Energy Event Index forecasts are available globally and offer around-the-clock telephone meteorological consultation provided by Schneider Electric’s expert forecasters.

While we can’t control the weather, we can minimize the risk of its effects by being prepared. Weather risk forecasting solutions like Schneider’s Energy Event Index help power utility companies operate with fewer power outages and more efficiency. So the next time a natural disaster strikes, you know where to turn for a solution.