THE MAGAZINE

Keeping the Lights On

By Teresa Anderson

While the microgrid did not make it into the final recommendations, the issue was given serious attention and was part of a “major discussion,” according to Wachsman. One of the main obstacles facing the widespread implementation of microgrids is that fuel cells cost two to three times more than purchasing energy through utilities. However, it might be worth the cost for some businesses. “This is important if you are in a business where maintaining electric power is critical. A microgrid should be a capital investment,” says Wachsman.

Implementation

While the report asks that all recommendations be taken as a whole, it is perhaps unavoidable that they will be implemented in pieces, because as a practical matter, that’s probably the only way anything will get done, especially given that some recommendations require regulatory or legislative action.

Some of the participating utilities are “moving forward aggressively with implementation of the new tree-trimming mandates as well as the deployment of numerous smart grid initiatives including advanced metering and distribution automation technologies,” says George Owens. Owens, who is president of Downes Associates, Inc., a consulting engineering company specializing in electrical utilities, served on the task force. He had previously served as the chief investigator and witness for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office in an investigation of outages in 2010 and 2011. He notes that it will take several years to determine whether the measures undertaken by all of the utilities will prove sufficient to measurably improve the resilience of the state’s utilities.

Telecommunications

The derecho also played havoc with telecommunications systems in the region. Specifically, 911 call centers in six states lost service. Seventeen centers across three states lost service completely, meaning that more than 2 million people were unable to contact 911 at all. In response, the FCC issued a report in early January offering recommendations for improving resiliency. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has announced that the agency will issue regulations based on the report.
In researching the issue, the FCC reviewed more than 500 outage reports from 22 service providers. The agency also interviewed representatives from communications providers, equipment manufacturers, 911 call center representatives, and state and local governments.

The FCC notes that the derecho provided a true test of the area’s 911 call centers. “Because the derecho was swift and unanticipated, it differed from hurricanes and superstorms like Isaac and Sandy, for which there typically is advance warning and an opportunity for communications providers to prepare by testing equipment, adjusting staff levels, and supplementing training over an extended period of time.”
 

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