Texas A&M Researchers Develop Model for Predicting Outages

August 04, 2017

By Erik Linask - Group Editorial Director

While power outages are an inconvenience to everyone they impact, their financial impact is greater than most would imagine, because of their broader effect on supply chains, water supplies, and other fundamental resources.  Major weather-related outages (those impacting more than 50,000 customers) cost tens of billions of dollars annually in America, according to Climate Central, whose work includes analysis of power outage data and its impact.  Its data suggests such outages continue to increase in frequency, and more than doubled in the decade between 2003-2013.  That doesn’t even consider the countless smaller outages that are reported every day across the country, nor the loss of life from outage-related accidents.

To help combat the increased threat of outages caused by weather conditions, researchers at Texas A&M University have created an intelligent model to help predict when and where outages are likely. Combining probability data around the potential for hazards with utility vulnerability assessments and the projected impact of potential events, the engineers hope to help make the power infrastructure across the nation more reliable and weather resistant.  By leveraging historical and current data, the model is able to provide utilities and municipalities an opportunity to proactively undertake inspections, maintenance, and repairs, including trimming trees and branches in susceptible areas.

While weather accounts for some 80 percent or more of outages, non-weather-related outages also are in the rise, many of them due to wildlife coming into contact with energized lines, creating instant surges and cutting power to local businesses and residents.  While utilities actively try to reduce the risk of such outages, snakes, birds, and other animals have shown an ability to circumvent obstacles and barriers to make their way into substations and onto power lines and poles.

The research out of Texas A&M will undoubtedly benefit everyone, from local communities and their businesses to utility companies and local, state, and national governments.  But, outages will occur despite all the effort to minimize them, which is why residents and businesses, alike, have to be prepared.

An increasing number of homeowners have portable or whole-home generators installed – some have to be manually connected and started, while others automatically kick in.  Many corporate buildings also have backup power sources, but regardless, they must also be aware their investments in technology are at risk if they don’t also install power protection systems that will eliminate the damaging effects of power surges, which can cause instant failure, or can degrade circuits slowly and, unbeknownst to IT staff, result in potentially catastrophic and costly failures.

Edited by Alicia Young