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 Rebuilding the electric grid in the aftermath of the December ice storm

The December 2013 ice storm in southern Ontario and eastern Canada resulted in CAD 200 million in insured losses and pushed the year-end severe weather insured loss total to CAD 3.2 billion, the highest in Canadian history, reported the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).  

Ben La Pianta, Executive Vice President, Electric Operations & Procurement at Toronto Hydro said: "The storm was the largest weather disruption event in our history. We lost 33 percent of our load and some people were without power for 13 days. Utilities cannot prevent an ice storm from happening or keep power on during a storm particularly if most of the infrastructure is above ground, but a thoughtful, prudent and methodical approach does help get power back on much sooner." 

Aging infrastructure is the biggest problem for utilities today. "The whole grid needs to be rebuilt," added La Pianta, who led Toronto Hydro's emergency response efforts in the recent ice storm.  

A speaker at the upcoming 5th marcus evans Distribution Technology & Innovation Summit 2014, in Dallas, Texas, March 31 - April 1, La Pianta commented: "Toronto suffers from the same symptoms as other dense urban utilities such as Boston, Washington and San Diego. The electrical infrastructure is old. If it were moved underground it would not be subject to extreme weather events like storms, but on the other hand it would be subject to flooding and extreme temperature fluctuations - so there is no perfect solution. We need to seriously consider the design configuration of the system. Do we need multiple redundancies? Do we expand the network systems beyond our downtown core? That could be very expensive but may have an economic business case for doing so. Intelligent technologies that look ahead and see if failures are imminent would also be helpful to utilities. We need to be able to isolate pockets of the grid from each other. We should also consider local generation as we cannot rely on the transmission grid as the sole source of generation. Solar panels, biofuels and energy storage can play a bigger role."  

Standards should also be modified, La Pianta advised. With the East and West coast subject to the elements of changing weather patterns, climate change and what utilities can do to minimize the risk of disruption will become a topic for discussion. "We call it storm hardening. The coast utilities have done a lot in recent years to prevent impact from hurricanes and so on, but I believe we need to review standards and modify them to suit the weather trends of the next 25-50 years."

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