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How Storms Like Delta Can Lead to Long Power Outages

By Cas Biekmann | Fri, 10/09/2020 - 09:47

As hurricane Delta hit the Yucatan peninsula with winds of over 177km/h, people braced for impact, reported CNN. The category 2 storm was expected to cause damage in Yucatan on Wednesday morning, continuing its path into the Gulf of Mexico and possibly gaining strength to a category 3 before hitting the US. Electricity connection is crucial for both countries and the storm’s effect on the power grid cannot be underestimated.

The New York Times reported that during the pandemic, many people’s lives have switched to the online environment. Stable access to electricity and to Wi-Fi are needed to live a life in the new normal either for work, using social media or online purchases. While in Yucatan a large segment of the population does not rely on online shopping or home office, there is no doubt that a disruption to the electrical supply can cause major direct and indirect problems to the population. The results could even end up being life-threatening if energy cannot be restored quickly enough for key infrastructure to be functioning back to normal, such as hospitals.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still threatening Mexico and the US, power outages during the pandemic could take much longer to be resolved, reported CNN. Argus Media reports that Yucatan is currently connected to Mexico’s national grid through various power lines: the 400kV Tabasco Potencia-Escarcega, two 230kV circuits from Macuspana II and finally the Los Rios-Santa Lucia, crossing through Campeche and Tabasco. Another line of 825MW from Valladolid, Yucatan to Cancun, Quintana Roo is predicted to no longer be able to support the energy demand of the states. In general, the system could suffer from either power saturation or shortages, leading to line failures.

"While we are committed to restoring power to customers as quickly as possible following a hurricane, I am not willing to sacrifice safety for speed," said Eric Silagym, CEO of Florida Power & Light Company, to CNN after a storm preparedness exercise earlier this year. “The first priority of every employee and contractor working to restore power is to return home safely to their loved ones. This has always been at the core of our hurricane response and it remains at the heart of everything we do during hurricane season.” Normally, a utility would set out to work right after the storm has passed. They would do so by setting up camp next to the points where damage has been most severe, prioritizing main power plants and essential services such as hospitals. However, because of the pandemic, workers will be forced to be more spread out. This will likely affect the response time. In the case of storm Isaias, The Verge reported that some homes were left without power between August 4 and August 11. Even though hospitals are likely to be brought online first, many elderly people rely on electrical equipment to help them at home as well, making an outage of a week a long haul.

Utilities can take certain steps to prevent damage, however. Trimming trees, for instance, can help prevent them from falling on power lines. But these are merely small preventive measures for an issue that is likely to get much worse over time. “If you liked Isaiah, you will love the decades to come because they are only going to get worse and we need to prepare,” Michael Gerrard, Director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said to The Verge. Measures can and likely will be taken toward the future. By strengthening power lines, replacing wooden poles with metal or concrete ones and adapting toward smaller, self-sufficient microgrids, a storm’s grip on the grid can be diminished.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
CNN, The New York Times, The Verge
Photo by:   NASA on Unsplash
Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst