How Well do Utilities React to Major Storms?
By Tristan Anwyn
When millions of customers were left without power after Hurricane Irene, utility companies found themselves in the public eye.
The pressure of public scrutiny focused squarely on how they responded, and why there weren't better contingency plans in place.
So how does a utility company prepare for such a disaster? And how well are those preparations working?
When a disaster such as a hurricane or tornado hits, utility companies are considered among the first responders.
Their aim is restoring power to as many customers as possible in the shortest time. This can look rather hit and miss from the outside with many customers dissatisfied with the service they received after a serious power outage.
There's no doubt that energy companies do their best to restore power after a natural disaster such as Superstorm Sandy or the Oklahoma tornados, but how does a utility company handle such a disaster.
What are some of the unique problems facing utility companies in the face of nature's worst?
The Mutual Assistance Network
Preparedness is everything, and when a utility company knows a big storm or other natural disaster is on the way, it's important that they galvanize their workers and get ready as quickly as possible.
As a storm comes in, each company's command center becomes quite literally central to the whole rescue effort, communicating plans and logistics with all utility crews. Power is usually restored in this order:
* Critical facilities – hospitals and emergency services, water facilities, and care homes;
* Main thoroughfares – those with necessary community services such as gas stations or food shops;
* Residential areas and individual homes.
Utility companies operate a mutual assistance network, which is called into action when a storm is coming or a natural disaster strikes.
This network means that companies can borrow crews from neighboring companies, pooling their resources to respond to the need of affected areas as quickly as possible.
The time immediately following a natural disaster is a dangerous one for workers.
Teams are sent out to assess areas and start co-coordinating efforts to get power back as quickly as possible. This is considerably more dangerous than their normal day jobs, with such hazards as:
* Electrical power surges;
* Falling debris;
* High winds.
These physical dangers can slow down the process of restoring power, and along with what appears to be a lack of organization, can cause a lot of frustration for customers.
So How Well Are Utility Companies Doing?
Customers' reactions to the utility companies' responses have been varied.
Following the Oklahoma tornadoes, 41,000 OG&E customers were left with no power. Within days, this was reduced to 5,000, with OG&E sending out many crews to repair the damage.
On the other hand in New York City, the Long Island Power Authority failed to restore power to many of their customers, leaving people in freezing conditions two weeks after the storm.
How Can Utility Companies Improve Their Response?
One of the main complaints from customers following Superstorm Sandy was a lack of organization, with one man being told he had power when his house was clearly without it.
These disasters have opened up a wider discussion about how Utility companies can best respond to natural disasters.
To start with, a more tightly organized approach and an overhaul of the Mutual Assistance Network would seem to be in order. It may also be necessary to look at larger issues. For example, should America follow Europe in burying its power lines? And how does privatization affect utility company's responses?
Whenever they strike, natural disasters raise necessary questions about utility companies' preparedness.
Some utility companies have been praised for improving their reactions, while others have left a lot of customers high and dry.
When all is said and done, utility companies need to regroup and work out what they can do better when the next crisis arrives.
About the Author: Tristan Anwyn is an author who writes on subjects as diverse as health, positive thinking, Steve Wynn, and business.
Trafigura and Yara International explore clean ammonia usage
Reducing shipping emissions is a vital component of the fight against global climate change, yet Greenhouse Gas emissions from the global maritime sector are increasing - and at odds with the IMO's strategy to cut absolute emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
How more than 70,000 ships can decrease their reliance on carbon-based sources is one of transport's most pressing decarbonisation challenges.
Yara and Trafigura intend to collaborate on initiatives that will establish themselves in the clean ammonia value chain. Under the MoU announced today, Trafigura and Yara intend to work together in the following areas:
- The supply of clean ammonia by Yara to Trafigura Group companies
- Exploration of joint R&D initiatives for clean ammonia application as a marine fuel
- Development of new clean ammonia assets including marine fuel infrastructure and market opportunities
Magnus Krogh Ankarstrand, President of Yara Clean Ammonia, said the agreement is a good example of cross-industry collaboration to develop and promote zero-emission fuel in the form of clean ammonia for the shipping industry. "Building clean ammonia value chains is critical to facilitate the transition to zero emission fuels by enabling the hydrogen economy – not least within trade and distribution where both Yara and Trafigura have leading capabilities. Demand and supply of clean ammonia need to be developed in tandem," he said.
There is a growing consensus that hydrogen-based fuels will ultimately be the shipping fuels of the future, but clear and comprehensive regulation is essential, according to Jose Maria Larocca, Executive Director and Co-Head of Oil Trading for Trafigura.
Ammonia has a number of properties that require "further investigation," according to Wartsila. "It ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by aftertreatment or by optimising the combustion process," it notes.
Trafigura has co-sponsored the R&D of MAN Energy Solutions’ ammonia-fuelled engine for maritime vessels, has performed in-depth studies of transport fuels with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and has published a white paper on the need for a global carbon levy for shipping fuels to be introduced by International Maritime Organization.
Oslo-based Yara produces roughly 8.5 million tonnes of ammonia annually and employs a fleet of 11 ammonia carriers, including 5 fully owned ships, and owns 18 marine ammonia terminals with 580 kt of storage capacity – enabling it to produce and deliver ammonia across the globe.
It recently established a new clean ammonia unit to capture growth opportunities in emission-free fuel for shipping and power, carbon-free fertilizer and ammonia for industrial applications.