Feature image photo credit: Envato.
Kanpur is the 12th largest city in India and a major industrial hub. Growing up in Kanpur during the 1980 and 1990s, it was always surprising to not have a few hours of power supply cut over any 24-hour period. The use of backup battery storage or a diesel generator was almost a necessity, especially during summers when temperatures would regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius during the day and power cuts would hover around 8–10 hours a day.
Air pollution from all the diesel generators and the impact of extreme summer heat, coupled with an inability to continuously use cooling appliances due to regular power outages, affected people's health in the city. The impact of regular power supply disruptions on the people and economy of the city is hard to miss. To this day, the unreliable power supply is cited as one of the key reasons for the decline in industrial activity in the city and the resulting loss of economic activity and jobs. ;A reliable and constant power supply is essential for ensuring a high quality of life for all while enabling economic growth.
A recent World Bank study estimated that providing power to all households of India 24 hours a day, seven days a week, would increase the income of rural households by $9.4 billion a year and prevent $22.7 billion a year in business losses. Globally, the correlation between access to electricity and educational achievement is extremely well documented. These benefits are the reason why ensuring access to clean energy is also part of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy).
As cities and communities around the world are installing and upgrading their power infrastructure to provide continuous clean energy to their citizens, it is important to focus on strategies that will enable the power systems to become more resilient against disasters, thereby further improving the reliability of power supply and minimizing the impact of disruptions.
Based on current climate change projections, heat waves, tropical cyclones and other disasters will only increase in frequency and intensity in the coming decades. In 2021, Winter Storm Uri wreaked havoc in the state of Texas, resulting in the loss of about 210 lives and financial losses estimated to be between $80 and $130 billion. It's estimated that Cyclone Yaas, which hit the eastern coast of India in 2021, led to about $7 billion in economic losses.
Making our power systems highly resilient to such future disasters and interruptions is critical for minimizing the impact on people, as well as for maintaining economic growth.
To do this, we must first assess the various risks that might be faced by the power systems and prepare a robust plan to fortify systems against those risks. Risks that can harm power systems can be either natural (such as earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones or heat waves) or human (such as cyberattacks or terrorism). It is important to conduct a holistic assessment and identify strategies to help adapt to and mitigate the impacts of identified risks.
The next step is to implement those adaptation and mitigation strategies in our utilities and critical infrastructure. For example, power supply lines can be placed underground to ensure that they are protected from falling trees or bird contact. Electrical equipment can be either located above the local critical flood levels or protected against such an occurrence by installation of flood barriers. Cybersecurity of power generation and supply infrastructure must be enhanced and continuously monitored.
Last, we must prepare a plan for quick and efficient post-disaster recovery. While the adaptation and mitigation strategies will help prepare against the potential disasters, it is possible that disasters might still have some disruptive impact on the power supply for a brief period. It is important to have an emergency response plan and recovery plan in place.
Multiple industry leaders have successfully implemented strategies to improve their power infrastructure. PEER Gold utilities like ;EPB of Chattanooga in the U.S. and TATA Power DDL in India are making their grids reliable and resilient through implementation of advanced smart grid systems, which allow their teams to monitor all their customers and track any disruption or anomaly in the power supply easily to minimize downtime.
Another PEER-certified example is that of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), which operates the fifth biggest metro network in the world, with about 6 million passenger trips per day on average. With such a large volume of professionals relying on their metro network for daily work commutes, even the slightest disruption in service would lead to significant production hours lost. Through advanced monitoring and tracking of interruptions; design strategies to limit damage from earthquakes, floods and storms; and incorporation of a redundant power supply, they have ensured that there is almost no disruption to the network and achieved PEER Gold certification for all of their lines.
The PEER Platinum main campus of NYU Langone Health in midtown Manhattan has about 80 operating rooms and 600 staffed beds. In a hospital, any disruption to the power supply can have significant human health impacts. To avoid such a scenario, the hospital uses measures such as a combined heat and power plant, emergency generators, boilers, and ways of protecting their power infrastructure from a 500-year flood event. All of this ensures that even in the event of power disruption from the local utility, the medical campus can run on its own.
As we begin to understand the impact of recent global disasters and better predict the impact of climate change on future events, it becomes imperative to ensure that our power infrastructure is prepared to withstand more shocks and disruptions. Resilient power infrastructure will not only improve business continuity and reduce financial losses, but more crucially, minimize the impact of disruptions on people.