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- By Caroline McNally
With an increasing number of natural disasters being driven by climate change, weather is becoming a constant challenge for utility companies. Grid hardening is a common practice amongst utilities to not only assess potential risks in the power grid, but also take strategic action to proactively mitigate these risks, harden utility infrastructure, and prevent utility customers from power outages.
External vulnerabilities like catastrophic storms and weather conditions have no sympathy for utility infrastructure. This means millions of dollars are spent yearly for the restoration of aerial utilities that will then need further monetary funded restoration due to storm damage in the future. The goal with grid hardening is that when a natural disaster or storm hits, there are less power outages and damage that come along with it.
While there is no “one size fits all” solution for grid hardening, undergrounding is extremely popular in coastal and tropical communities. Undergrounding is the act of moving aerial infrastructure to an underground infrastructure for safer and stronger utility infrastructure that better shelters utilities from external vulnerabilities.
The process of undergrounding can be long and tedious but is comprised of three key steps. The first is prioritizing certain utility lines based on which are most susceptible to damage and targeting those lines. Second is moving those lines underground through the means of a manhole, handhole, trench, or bore. The last step is creating response measures in preparation for damage to all utility lines regardless of if they are aerial or underground.
In high density communities where weather annually impacts the utility infrastructure due to seasonal storms, undergrounding has seen great success. It has reduced the numbers of outages caused by external vulnerabilities, made utility work safer, and storm restoration easier. All combined, reducing the amount of safety incidents, time, and money annually being put into consistently damaged power lines.