How Duke Energy is preparing for hurricane season
You can’t stop a hurricane’s rain and winds, but you can be ready for it.
That’s why Duke Energy is improving the electric grid across its six-state territory and especially in the coastal areas of Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, which get battered by hurricanes.
The work includes trimming trees that can fall on power lines, upgrading electric poles and lines, and protecting substations from flooding.
It’s especially important with Atlantic hurricane season starting June 1. Experts forecast another active season, following the record 30 named storms and 13 hurricanes of 2020.
Despite pre-season outlooks indicating another active year, Duke meteorologists do not anticipate another hyper-active year like 2020. Duke Energy meteorologists forecast 20 storms and nine hurricanes for 2021, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts 13 to 20 named storms and six to 10 hurricanes.
So making the grid stronger to withstand storms and more resilient to bounce back will get the power restored quicker for customers.
“The idea is if you can reduce the number of outages customers experience after a storm, and add more tools to restore those outages faster, then that frees up crews and resources that can help other customers and communities when they need us most,” said Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks.
The company has completed many improvements in the Carolinas ahead of hurricane season, including converting more than 100 wooden transmission poles to steel poles in Brunswick County, N.C., and strengthening poles at Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach to withstand hurricane-force winds. If the pole can withstand a Category 3 hurricane, it can potentially stay in service longer and is easier to restore power because lineworkers don’t have to replace it.
In Florida, a multiyear grid protection effort is equipping the power system to resist severe storms. The company is also installing smart equipment and self-healing technology that can automatically detect power outages and restore service faster.
Self-healing technology helped to avoid nearly 600,000 extended customer outages in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida in 2020, saving more than 1 million hours of total outage time. Over the next few years, Duke Energy expects to install enough self-healing technology to serve most customers.
During Hurricane Isaias in 2020, a lot of customers in Wilmington, N.C., lost power, Brooks said, but in areas with upgraded poles and self-healing technology, more power stayed on.
“We’re going to significantly expand this technology in the next two to three years,” he said, “and that’s going to add a lot of benefits to communities.”
The company also built flood walls and made other improvements at around a dozen substations in eastern North Carolina and the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. Keeping the water out of these substations can help towns get power back quicker after a storm.
Since we’re still in the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s safety measures are still in place. Restoration teams from out of town stay with their teams and don’t mix with local crews. And while people have been vaccinated, the company still practices social distancing.
“We’ve been making upgrades across our system to build a stronger and smarter power grid to serve our customers,” said Scott Batson, senior vice president and Duke Energy’s chief distribution officer. “Our crews are ready to respond when the next hurricane strikes, and the improvements we have made, and will continue to make, will provide real benefits to customers and communities and help us restore power faster when they count on us most.”