CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hurricane season just kicked off on June 1 and there’s already been one named storm. Plus, with the heat and humidity of summertime, strong storms become more likely in the Carolinas.
For this reason, Duke Energy is taking an offensive approach to avoid power outages across the region.
They are utilizing new technologies, such as smart, self-healing technology, in order to not only prevent power outages from happening altogether but resolve them quickly.
Self-healing technology can automatically identify a power outage and quickly reroute power to restore service faster. Jeff Brooks, the spokesperson for Duke Energy, told WCNC Charlotte Meteorologist Brittany Van Voorhees to think about self-healing technology like the GPS in your car.
“If you're driving along, it says there's an outage ahead and you take a road to get around the outage and stay on your way,” Brooks explained. “Think of this as the GPS for the power grid, helping to identify outages, and quickly reroute power to other lines to restore service faster.”
Self-healing technology can reduce the number of customers impacted by a power outage by as much as 75%. In some cases, it can restore power in less than a minute.
Right now, only 20% of Duke Energy customers benefit from this new technology, but they hope to increase this number to 80% in the next few years.
In 2021, this technology helped to avoid more than 200,000 extended customer outages in North Carolina, saving customers more than 400,000 hours of lost outage time.
What is the largest cause of power outages in the Carolinas?
According to Brooks, severe weather causes most of the issues locally. This is especially the case when trees topple over, taking power lines with them. Often, this is due to flooding and saturated ground. Strong, damaging winds come through and boom… the tree has fallen.
Brooks says that in some areas, such as southeast Charlotte where outages occur often, they’ve tried to put some of the lines underground. They use advanced data analytics to tell them the right place to put the line.
However, that isn’t always possible -- nor is it the best solution everywhere.
How do weather and climate change impact Duke Energy’s approach to power outages?
Severe storms are the most common weather-related cause of power outages, but the list goes on. Ice storms, heat waves, downburst winds, flash flooding, and tropical cyclones can all cause outage problems. And we have all of these in the Carolinas!
With a changing climate and an increase in the number of storms, severe or otherwise, Duke Energy is preparing accordingly.
“In addition to looking at historical reliability data, we're beginning to use machine learning and A.I. to begin to predict some of the trends over time that we're going to see with our system to make sure that we're building the right protections in place, whatever we may encounter, to make sure that we're ready to keep reliable service for our customers," Brooks said.
Brooks explains that Duke Energy has an all-hazards approach and they are trying to prepare for anything. Self-healing technology is the first step to restoring as many customers as possible, even if crews eventually have to go out and repair the damage. It also helps crews stay safer and more efficient even while out in the field.
What else causes power outages other than weather?
Cars hitting poles is a major factor in power outages. Brooks says that distracted driving has caused a big increase in the number of these crashes.
He said since we can’t predict these outages, they need a system that can recover quickly.
Two other big culprits: squirrels and snakes.
“They get on our lines, they get in our substations, and they can cause outages for 1000s of customers,” Brooks said. “So, we're making a lot of improvements built around protecting our systems from animals and keeping them safe, while keeping the grid operating as well.”
What other new technologies is Duke Energy using?
Duke is using smart technology not only to restore power after outages but also to manage distributed technologies, such as electric vehicles, battery storage and solar panels on homes and businesses.
All of this changes the way power flows across the power grid.
“If you think about it, power has always flowed in one direction from our power plants to our customers," Brooks said. "But now it's all changing. That power is now flowing in multiple directions, we've got power coming from your home or business that might need to go somewhere else."
“We need a smarter power grid to be able to automatically manage that and make the grid efficient so that you never experience a problem with your power reliability, even as we add these cleaner technologies. This facility is going to also help in addition to making power restoration faster, it's helping prepare the grid for the future so we can provide cleaner energy options for our customers.”
Duke Energy is also using smart meters across our entire area. Brooks says by using these meters, they can remotely pull information from a home or business to make sure power has been restored. This is beneficial so a crew can finish quicker and move on to another outage.
What does Duke Energy’s Distribution Control Center do?
Employees who work in this facility manage utility crews working across the state and monitor and respond to outages as they occur. When you report an outage, they assign a crew or use technology to repair the outage.
This facility also helps support day-to-day power quality questions, concerns from customers, grid improvement work, new poles and wires to support growth in the area.
What’s interesting about this facility is that crew members can work together to help one another. Regions separate them, but if the Charlotte area were to experience a big outage, crews from other areas can walk a few steps to help the Charlotte employees get power back on.