Memories of last February’s Winter Storm Uri are likely to linger for a long time in the minds of people across Texas and the deep South. Uri battered the region with heavy snow, ice and temperatures more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit below normal, leaving millions without electricity, running water and heat. It was the costliest winter storm on record, resulting in $24 billion in losses.
Remarkably, Uri was just one of 20 weather and climate disasters in 2021 that each caused more than $1 billion in losses in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The same agency reported a sharp rise in the frequency of billion-plus-dollar disasters: There were 123 during the 2010s — nearly double the 63 that occurred during the 2000s.
As electric utilities and other power providers face the reality of more extreme weather, they are making significant investments to ensure they can better withstand and adapt to those events. These investments include pole replacements, power plant and gas supply line weatherization, undergrounding of assets, microgrids and grid reconfigurations.
Data-driven awareness of early grid disruption indicators
Another essential ingredient in preparing for extreme weather is data. When a hurricane, winter storm, heat wave or other meteorological event is approaching an area, good data can enable a better awareness of the early warning signs of major electric grid disruptions.
For instance, information on weather-related power plant shutdowns, real-time electricity demand and short-term weather forecasts can inform predictions of whether demand will significantly outstrip supply or transmission line capacity — and lead to extensive outages for utility customers.
Putting that data around upcoming weather conditions into historical context can create even more actionable insight.
“Through careful data analysis, power providers can identify the conditions in historical weather events that led to extreme market reactions,” stated Cliff Rose, a product manager at Yes Energy, a leading provider of comprehensive power market data and analytics tools. “For example, during some heat waves, we’ve observed that winds diminished and wind turbines shut down, leading to shortfalls in generation, skyrocketing power prices and customer outages. If a weather event is moving into an area, a power provider can use our platform to track market conditions in real time. If upcoming conditions exhibit patterns similar to historical events, that may prompt a conclusion that similarly extreme market reactions could occur.”
Data-informed decisions during active weather events
Data can also provide significant value to a utility when a weather event has already arrived in an area. For instance, if a storm has damaged generation facilities, a power provider can leverage electricity market data to identify the most cost-effective generation to purchase in the region. Fully informed purchase decisions enable them to continue providing reliable, cost-effective service to customers even as the storm unfolds.
“We can provide the data context to inform what the best market moves might be,” said Will Dailey, chief commercial officer of Yes Energy. “Our data platform provides utilities clear visibility into key regional and interregional electricity data such as prices, load, transmission outages and transmission constraints, both currently and on a historical basis. With the acquisition of Live Power’s generation and transmission monitoring data in July 2022, our customers can also see which plants and lines may be down or operating at a limited capacity. Having this data at their fingertips helps our utility customers refine their strategies as weather events approach their territories.”
Data-backed insights after weather events
Robust data also enables utilities to conduct intelligent post hoc analyses of what happened on the grid as a weather event unfolded. For example, how did the event affect market conditions like location-specific demand and electricity prices earned by certain power plants? Based on the insights from these analyses, utilities can avoid repeating mistakes that may have led to major grid disruptions.
“Utilities want to stay out of the headlines, and there’s no surer way to make the headlines than having prolonged outages in your territory,” indicated Dailey. “It’s incredibly difficult to manage the electricity grid during severe weather events. Even the best-prepared utility has to endure outages. The issue becomes how do you get ahead of these events and how can you defend the actions you took to minimize the impact of outage events.”
“Data analytics must be a core competency,” he advised. “History is a good teacher. Historical data can help utilities make fully informed and defensible decisions during weather events today to help keep them out of the headlines.”
A few days after winter storm Uri, Yes Energy analyzed its data to demonstrate that grid operators actually made a lot of good decisions very quickly that prevented the situation from getting much worse.
“We have had requests from regulators to use our data to assess how Uri impacted grid operations,” Dailey noted. “Other customers have used our Uri data to predict how ice accumulation from forecasted winter storms — even minor ones — might affect wind power operations and market conditions. There’s a lot to learn from this trove of data if you can mine it effectively. We help our customers do just that.”
Data is key to preparing for the future
In addition to helping utilities make real-time, informed decisions in response to weather events, data can help them justify their decisions. They can use it to demonstrate that they utilized every tool at their disposal to avoid a grid disruption and build the case for new grid investments.
“A utility could use our platform to quantify the dollar impact of a power plant outage due to an extreme weather event and use that number to make the case for investments in grid reliability and resilience,” proposed Rose. Armed with a data-informed understanding of how historical weather events impacted grid operations, utilities can better illustrate to regulators why they need to approve investments in hardening or winterizing grid assets to prepare for future events.
Supporting a resilient, reliable grid during extreme weather requires a nuanced understanding of numerous interrelated aspects of power markets. Yes Energy’s comprehensive data platform provides a clear visual picture of how these aspects interact to inform actionable solutions to real-time and future weather-related challenges.