New York, NY, U.S.A. --- (METERING.COM) --- October 31, 2012 - The scale of the destruction, including the tragic loss of life, wrought by the superstorm Sandy as it passed over Caribbean nations including Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas and thence up the east coast to New York and further north into Canada is just beginning to be evaluated.

Under its path, in addition to the loss of homes and other personal property, essential services such as electricity have been severely affected. In the Bahamas, the Bahamas Electricity Corporation reported outages on several islands. In New York, Long Island Power Authority reported that more than 900,000 customers are enduring outages, and Con Edison’s outage map shows widespread outages over its service area.

Indeed, in all as many as 7.9 million people across the U.S. East Coast are believed to have lost power and some are predicting that full restoration could take up to a week.

The question being posed is the extent to which smart grid can limit such outages – and ironically all of this has occurred just days after officials from the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and the state's electric utilities highlighted the progress and benefits of the statewide smart grid initiative for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the New York State Public Service Commission.

What is clear is that there is little that can protect the electric infrastructure from the force of a storm such as Sandy, with strong winds, raging waters and secondary effects such as fire. Further the restoration of an outage following an event such as a storm, with external factors to deal with, is clearly at a different level to one caused by equipment failure alone.

In time experiences will show the areas that smart grid can contribute to outage restoration, e.g. by “islanding” to ensure the effects are minimized. But many utilities do already have one powerful tool at their disposal – the more user friendly websites and the communication paths they are opening up along with their smart meter and smart grid initiatives, that can be put to good use in communicating with customers and keeping them updated on outage restoration progress.

What is also clear is that the human factor is also an important element. In this case linemen and crews from as far afield as Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas have travelled to help their East Coast colleagues, in a fine example of how utilities can provide collaboration and support to one another.
 
Jonathan Spencer Jones