When the power goes out, we all know it’s a problem. In fact, at current investment trends, brownouts and blackouts are expected to cost businesses and households almost $200 billion by the year 2020. With more extreme weather events predicted for the future, cities are beginning to plan on how to face them with resilience, technology, and stronger infrastructure.
Integrating Renewables into the Equation
It is no longer a surprise that many utilities are integrating more renewables, energy efficiency and distributed generation in their integrated resources plans. However, some utilities, municipalities, and cities are taking the next leap forward and announcing plans to use 100 percent renewable energy in the future, largely in response to climate change, fuel costs, and other factors.
Connecting these “smart grid” technologies and remote renewable energy sources requires strong investment in transmission and distribution lines. Cities with adequate resources are committing towards longer-term solutions that address sustainability and life-cycle cost.
In the energy sector, extreme ice, wind, and other events can often over-stretch conductors. Discrepancies between outdated manual records and actual field conditions meant that many conductors were not located and vulnerable to clearance violations. This was determined to be a major factor in the 2003 Northeast Blackout that left approximately 45 million people in the U.S. without power.
The use of airborne Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) technology has allowed utilities to rapidly survey more than 460,000 miles of transmission lines and use software to accurately find vulnerabilities in transmission lines under various meteorological and electrical loading events. As of mid-2014, over 50,000 discrepancies were identified, and more than 3,200 circuits have been completely remediated. This technology has greatly increased the reliability of our transmission grid.
Just as LiDAR technology has been truly transformative to electrical transmission line siting and design, the use of small unmanned aerial systems technologies, or “drones,” is also revolutionizing how utilities operate and maintain their overhead line infrastructure. Drones can gather real-time video, photographic, infrared, and other data from virtually any position above or around energized high voltage electrical transmission lines and structures while keeping the operator safely on the ground. The technology is still advancing, and these non-disruptive flights can become totally autonomous (no pilot required) with pre-programmed flying routes. In addition, the sensors have the potential to monitor and report everything from conductor temperatures, component stresses and strains, or deterioration due to continuing corrosion and wear-and tear.
For transportation agencies, drones can capture aerial footage to help show how a new intersection will work for drivers, and they are being tested for use in bridge and pavement inspections.
America’s energy grid is aging, and there are more threats against it than you may think. Resilience for our energy grid comes from the ability to recover quickly from what those in the industry like to call high-impact, low-frequency (HILF) events like a cyber-attack or natural disaster. Deploying effective systems to both respond to energy issues and to recover from disruptions is a broad task that requires coordination and extensive planning from our energy providers as well as government.
Managing infrastructure projects requires a huge amount of documentation. In an age where we are constantly communicating and exchanging information, project documents and complex printed plan sets can become obsolete as soon as they are distributed. Many partners often must sign off on each step, and completing reviews and project sign-off using physical signatures can slow down the process. E-construction also allows those at the project site, not in their office, refer to documents in real-time, upload photos, and make necessary changes. Changing a design on a project could take 120 days to get approved—now it can be done in as quickly as three or four days.