Study uses AI to predict fragility of power grid networks – double trouble when 2 disasters strike electrical transmission infrastructure

One disaster can knock out electric service to millions. A new study suggests that back-to-back disasters could cause catastrophic damage, but the research also identifies new ways to monitor and maintain power grids.

Researchers at The Ohio State University have developed a machine learning model for predicting how susceptible overhead transmission lines are to damage when natural hazards like hurricanes or earthquakes happen in quick succession.

An essential facet of modern infrastructure, steel transmission towers help send electricity across long distances by keeping overhead power lines far off the ground. After severe damage, failures in these systems can disrupt networks across affected communities, taking anywhere from a few weeks to months to fix.

The study, published in the journal Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics, uses simulations to analyze what effect prior damage has on the performance of these towers once a second hazard strikes. Their findings suggest that previous damage has a considerable impact on the fragility and reliability of these networks if it can’t be repaired before the second hazard hits, said Abdollah Shafieezadeh, co-author of the study and an associate professor of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering.

“Our work aims to answer if it’s possible to design and manage systems in a way that not only minimizes their initial damage but enables them to recover faster,” said Shafieezadeh.

The machine learning model not only found that a combination of an earthquake and hurricane could be particularly devastating to the electrical grid, but that the order of the disasters may make a difference. The researchers found that the probability of a tower collapse is much higher in the event of an earthquake followed by a hurricane than the probability of failure when the hurricane comes first and is followed by an earthquake.

That means while communities would certainly suffer some setbacks in the event that a hurricane precedes an earthquake, a situation wherein an earthquake precedes a hurricane could devastate a region’s power grid. Such conclusions are why Shafieezadeh’s research has large implications for disaster recovery efforts.

“When large-scale power grid systems are spread over large geographic areas, it’s not possible to carefully inspect every inch of them very carefully,” said Shafieezadeh. ”Predictive models can help engineers or organizations see which towers have the greatest probability of failure and quickly move to improve those issues in the field.”

After training the model for numerous scenarios, the team created “fragility models” that tested how the structures would hold up under different characteristics and intensities of natural threats. With the help of these simulations, researchers concluded that tower failures due to a single hazardous event were vastly different from the pattern of failures caused by multi-hazard events. The study noted that many of these failings occurred in the leg elements of the structure, a segment of the tower that helps bolt the structure to the ground and prevents collapse.

Overall, Shafieezadeh said his research shows a need to focus on re-evaluating the entire design philosophy of these networks. Yet to accomplish such a task, much more support from utilities and government agencies is needed.

“Our work would be greatly beneficial in creating new infrastructure regulations in the field,” Shafieezadeh said. “This along with our other research shows that we can substantially improve the entire system’s performance with the same amount of resources that we spend today, just by optimizing their allocation.”

This work was supported by the Korea Institute of Energy Technology Evaluation and Planning (KETEP) and the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy of the Republic of Korea (MOTIE).

China loses hydropower As drought dries up Yangtze River

No rain and a 70-day heat wave spur crop failures, power cuts, and dangerously-low reservoirs across parts of China.

A historic drought in the southwest of China is drying up rivers, intensifying forest fires, damaging crops, and severely curtailing electricity in a region highly dependent on hydropower.

The Yangtze River, the third largest in the world, has dropped to half its average water levels, affecting shipping routes, limiting drinking water supplies, causing rolling blackouts, and even exposing long-submerged Buddhist statues. Some 66 rivers across 34 counties in Chongqing were dried up. The province of Sichuan, which gets more than 80 percent of its energy from hydropower, cut or limited electricity to thousands of factories in an effort to “leave power for the people.” Poyang Lake, the largest freshwater lake in China, is just a quarter of its normal size for this time of year.

China issued its first national drought alert in nine years. Rainfall in the Yangtze River Basin is down 45 percent from last July, the lowest it has been since 1961.

Sichuan is a major manufacturing hub and the curbing of electricity to factories has had global impacts, affecting suppliers of Toyota, Volkswagen, Tesla, Intel and Apple, as well as pesticide and solar panel manufacturers. Companies have been asked to continue rationing electricity. Toyota has slowly resumed operations using a generator; Tesla asked the government of Shanghai to ensure that its suppliers received enough power, saying it faced shortages of components as plants scaled back production. Other areas that source power from Sichuan have also made cuts, including Shanghai, China’s largest city, which turned off decorative lighting as a symbolic gesture.

Drought’s impact on the agriculture sector has also been severe, with thousands of acres of crops damaged in Sichuan and the neighboring Hubei province. In response, the Chinese government discharged water from several large upstream reservoirs, and the Ministry of Agriculture said it will try to artificially increase rainfall through cloud seeding, as well as spray crops with a water-retaining agent.

[Source: UNDRR]

DOE Should Address Lessons Learned from Previous Disasters to Enhance Resilience

Natural disasters, such as cyclones, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, and severe storms—and the power outages resulting from these disasters—have affected millions of customers and cost billions of dollars. The growing severity of wildfires and extreme weather events in recent years has been a principal contributor to an increase in the frequency and duration of power outages in the U.S. Federal agencies, such as DOE and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, play a significant role in disaster response, recovery, and resilience.

This report (1) identifies lessons learned from federal, state, and other entities' responses to selected disasters that affected the electricity grid from 2017 to 2021; and (2) examines federal agency actions to address those lessons learned. GAO selected a nongeneralizable sample of 15 of 35 disasters that affected the grid from 2017 to 2021. The 15 selected were among the most severe events across a range of types, locations, and years. GAO also examined agency and industry responses; reviewed relevant reports, policies, and documents; and interviewed federal, state, and local officials, as well as selected industry stakeholders.

Power outages caused by natural disasters have affected millions of customers and cost billions of dollars. The Department of Energy plays a key role in disaster response and long-term electricity grid recovery.

DOE has taken some steps to improve its workforce and training, tools and technology, and local capacity to respond to disasters. But, DOE doesn't have a comprehensive plan for coordinating response and recovery responsibilities within the agency. In addition, DOE hasn't used lessons learned from previous disasters to prioritize recovery efforts.

In responding to selected disasters occurring between 2017 and 2021, federal, state, and other stakeholders identified lessons learned in the areas of planning and coordination, workforce and training, tools and technology, and local capacity. In the area of planning and coordination, agency officials and reports highlighted that disaster responses were more effective when strong working relationships existed between federal, industry, and local stakeholders. Regarding workforce and training, a Department of Energy (DOE) report emphasized the importance of having a dedicated pool of responders with expertise in grid reconstruction and recovery, especially when responding to multiple, concurrent or successive disasters.

Federal agencies have taken steps to address lessons learned by improving workforce and training, tools and technology, and local capacity. For example, to address workforce lessons, DOE began deploying a Catastrophic Incident Response Team to quickly bring responders with subject-matter expertise to affected areas. However, DOE does not have a comprehensive approach for coordinating its broader grid support mission that includes disaster response, grid recovery, and technical assistance efforts. Specifically, roles and responsibilities within DOE for transitioning from response to recovery are unclear, as are how lessons learned from previous disasters are used to prioritize recovery and technical assistance efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that bringing together the disparate missions and resources that support disaster risk reduction can help build resilience to natural hazards. By establishing a comprehensive approach that clearly defines roles and responsibilities, and acting on lessons learned across DOE, the department could better target resources and technical assistance. This approach, in turn, can lead to enhanced grid resilience and reduced disaster risk.


GAO Report: Opportunities Exist for DOE to Better Support Utilities in Improving Resilience to Hurricanes

Hurricanes are a leading cause of major power outages in the U.S., impacting millions of customers in recent years. Utilities in hurricane-affected states have invested in ways to better equip their grids to withstand and rapidly recover from hurricanes. For example, some utilities have elevated equipment to protect grid infrastructure from flooding.
The Department of Energy and its National Laboratories are developing planning tools, such as metrics to track grid resilience. However, we recommended that DOE create a plan to better guide these efforts and to better inform utilities about available resources at its National Labs.
Since 2012, utilities have taken steps to improve grid resilience to severe hurricanes, such as (1) implementing storm hardening measures to enable the grid to better withstand the effects of hurricanes; (2) adopting technologies to enhance operational capacity and help quickly restore service following disruptions; and (3) participating in mutual aid programs with other utilities and training and planning exercises. For example, utilities have implemented storm hardening measures that include elevating facilities and constructing flood walls to protect against storm surges. Utilities have also adopted technologies that enhance communication capabilities and monitor systems to detect, locate, and repair sources of disruptions. However, these utilities reported challenges justifying grid resilience investments to obtain regulatory approval, and some utilities have limited resources to pursue such enhancements.
Various federal agencies can provide funding for efforts to enhance grid resilience to hurricanes, including the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, eligibility for most federal funding for grid resilience, including some USDA and FEMA funding, is limited to publicly owned utilities and state, tribal, and local governments. The Department of Energy (DOE) does not provide direct funding for grid resilience improvements, but it has efforts under way, including through its National Laboratories, to provide technical assistance and promote research and collaboration with utilities. DOE has also initiated preliminary efforts to develop tools for resilience planning, including resilience metrics and other tools such as a framework for planning, but DOE does not have a plan to guide these efforts. Without a plan to guide DOE efforts to develop tools for resilience planning, utilities may continue to face challenges justifying resilience investments. In addition, DOE lacks a formal mechanism to inform utilities about the efforts of its National Laboratories. Such a mechanism would help utilities leverage existing resources for improving grid resilience to hurricanes.
Hurricanes pose significant threats to the electricity grid in some U.S. coastal areas and territories and are a leading cause of major power outages. In recent years, hurricanes have impacted millions of customers in these areas. Adoption of technologies and other measures could improve the resilience of the grid so that it is better able to withstand and rapidly recover from severe weather; this could help mitigate the effects of hurricanes.
This report examines (1) measures utilities in selected states have adopted to enhance grid resilience following major hurricanes since 2012 and any challenges utilities face funding such measures; and (2) federal efforts to support the adoption of measures to enhance grid resilience to hurricanes and any opportunities that exist to improve these efforts. For this report, GAO assessed agency and industry actions; reviewed relevant reports, policies, and documents; and interviewed federal, industry, and local officials.
GAO recommends that DOE (1) establish a plan to guide its efforts to develop tools for resilience planning, and (2) develop a mechanism to better inform utilities about grid resilience efforts at the National Laboratories. DOE agreed in principle with these recommendations, but its proposed actions do not fully address GAO's concerns.
Full report can be found here >>

Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take Actions

Climate change is expected to affect every aspect of the electricity grid—from generation, transmission, and distribution, to demand for electricity. For example, more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may diminish hydroelectricity in some areas, and increasing wildfires may damage transmission lines.
We testified about how the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could enhance grid resilience. We recommended that DOE develop a strategy for doing so and coordinate efforts within the department, and that FERC assess grid risks and plan how to promote resilience.
Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage.
Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience.
According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards.
This testimony summarizes GAO's report on grid resilience to climate change. Specifically, the testimony discusses (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.