Hurricane Season is Here; Is Your Grid Prepared?

When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, no one could predict the level of devastation those 155-mph sustained winds would deliver. In its wake, Maria plunged the entire island of Puerto Rico into darkness, and decimated its aging distribution, transmission and generation infrastructure. By all predictions, it was going to take at least six months before power was restored at a meaningful level.

Recognizing the likelihood for severe damage even before the hurricane made landfall, APR Energy engaged with federal and Puerto Rican authorities to make them aware of the company’s readiness if emergency power was required. APR Energy also took the initiative to stage some of its newest-generation GE TM2500 mobile gas turbines in the region, in the event they would be needed.

Sean Wilcock, chief commercial officer, APR Energy

Sean Wilcock, chief commercial officer, APR Energy

More than 90 percent of Puerto Rico residents still lacked electricity even weeks after the disaster. And with that, they lacked access to food, medical storage, communication devices, and other essential services. APR Energy rapidly installed and operated two mobile turbines at the Palo Seco power plant near San Juan. Mobile turbine technology was favored with its high-power density, significantly lower emissions and ability to stabilize the power grid – reducing the risk of blackouts. In addition, the fuel-flexible turbines could switch from diesel to cleaner, lower-cost natural gas once fuel supplies became available. Just 17 days after the contract was signed, both units became fully operational, completing one of the fastest installations ever for a mobile gas turbine.

A combined 85 MW being generated at two different Puerto Rico plant installations are now helping to stabilize the power grid and restore critically needed electricity to thousands of homes, hospitals, schools and businesses – a vital step in the long process of the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.

Situations like these teach us that no level of preparation is too much, and unfortunately, our experience shows that very few high-risk areas are truly prepared to face a powerful storm. With the first named storm of 2018 already behind us, it’s shaping up to be a long hurricane season. And if you believe the forecasting models, 2018 is likely to pack quite a punch. Is your infrastructure prepared to weather the storms?

Preparation

There is no way to predict the future, but there is a way to be prepared to react. As decision makers at the governmental and infrastructural levels – particularly in island and coastal areas – evaluate their readiness and batten down the hatches in preparation for the imminent hurricane season, there are a few critical actions that may not be top of mind, but that could save the day when disaster strikes.

Develop a crisis plan. It’s easier to brush off the danger and play the odds that disasters like Hurricane Maria won’t happen to you. However, putting together a “just in case” crisis plan will save you from scrambling when disaster strikes.  Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but it’s important to create a realistic back-up plan that can be implemented quickly in the event of a crisis.

Be proactive, but realistic. Take a hard, honest look at your infrastructure and protect the integrity of your power grid by conducting a full assessment. Identify the resources you may have available for use in a potential disaster. Identify any shortcomings or weak points within your grid that could be improved and invest in making your grid stronger; it will be worth it in the long run. The grid is only as strong as its weakest link. Additional bays at substations can be put to use while a damaged substation is repaired, enabling supplemental power generation to be easily connected.

Identify key stakeholders. Make sure to establish your crisis management team. These stakeholders will be on the front lines in the event of a potential disaster. Know where they will be located and ensure that all members of the team are on the same page before an issue arises. Empower every member to make the necessary decisions when the time comes. Decisive actions will ensure minimal downtime and will increase public confidence.

Establish agreements. Establish preemptive agreements with vendors that can be acted upon immediately.

Don’t put yourself in a position to negotiate with your ‘hair on fire.’ Having those preemptive conversations will not only help your grid but also fully prepare the third party when the time comes to jump in and act in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.

As hurricanes begin to make their way through various coastal areas, these steps can help make your infrastructure ready for this season. It’s not about preventing the unpredictable; it’s about how prepared you are to react. Will you take these steps to help make your grid ready, now?

Sean Wilcock is chief commercial officer for APR Energy.