- Three years after Hurricane Sandy left 8 million on the East Coast without power, a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on the region's power vulnerabilities finds a Category 3 storm would still flood a wide range of electric infrastructure, InsideClimate News reports.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that rising sea levels means the devastation could increase in coming decades, with more plants potentially flooded by similarly-sized storms.
- The report calls on a slate of emerging technologies to add grid resiliency, including microgrids, pairing renewable energy with storage, and the development of combined heat and power plants.
It's been three years since Superstorm Sandy made landfall in the United States, leaving millions in the dark. A new analysis of East Coast and Gulf Coast power susceptibilities shows little progress has been made on grid hardening. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, if a Category 3 storm were to strike the region it would still do major damage — and in the decades to come, infrastructure will be even more susceptible to extreme weather due to rising sea levels.
"Flood mapping of five major metropolitan regions suggests that if critical components of the electric grid are insufficiently protected, they risk inundation and the flood damage and failure that can ensue," the group found.
In southeastern Florida, UCS determined 37 of 222 major substations and two small power plants could be exposed to flooding from a major storm today. But importantly, "the number of exposed substations more than doubles by 2050 and more than triples by 2070 as sea level rise drives storm surge higher and farther inland."
In New Orleans and the Central Gulf Coast, where Hurricane Katrina did billions in damage, UCS said nearly 70% of substations and 9,300 MW of generating capacity could be exposed to a major storm today. The report reached similar conclusions for Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry; Norfolk and Southeastern Virginia; and the Delaware Valley.
"In these coastal areas, a hurricane or other large coastal storm can push water inland in a large and damaging storm surge. Crucial electricity infrastructure is exposed to potential flooding and damage during such events," UCS found. "Widespread blackouts can occur even when only a few pieces of the electric grid succumb to flooding."
UCS pointed to emerging clean power technologies to add grid resiliency in the event of a storm. "To ensure a reliable electricity system now and in the future, we need to plan for current and worsening flood exposure over the lifetime of equipment, and deploy resilient clean energy solutions to keep critical facilities powered up even when severe weather strikes," the group said.
Among the recommendations: more microgrids, storage and CH&P installations. "Resilient power offers a system that is flexible, can respond to challenges, can quickly recover, and remains available when we need it most," UCS said.
Some utilities have already jumped on board these suggestions with microgrid projects of their own, aimed at fending off damage from future Hurricane Sandys. Just last week, Pennsylvania regulators approved PECO's plan to invest $274 million for grid upgrades to improve grid reliability and shore up infrastructure, which includes a microgrid pilot project with a price tag ranging from $50 to $100 million.