October 07, 2022

Hurricane Ian and the future of the power grid

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Kathryn Krawczyk October 5, 2022

👋 Hello and welcome to Energy News Weekly!

This week, we discuss the latest climate change-driven disaster to hit the U.S., and what Hurricane Ian can tell us about the electric grid’s fate — and solar’s potential — as extreme weather becomes even more common.

Crews work to clear a tree that fell on power lines

Crews work to clear a tree that fell on power lines in Durham, North Carolina, this weekend.  Kaitlin McKeown / The News & Observer via AP
Hurricane Ian hit Florida last week as a Category 4 monster, knocking out power for nearly 2.7 million customers before causing more damage through the Carolinas. In all, Ian left behind a death toll of at least 100 people — and its full impact isn’t even clear yet.

What is clear is that superstorms like this one will only become more common as climate change warms ocean waters. Karthik Balaguru, a climate scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, tells the Washington Post that Ian is the latest in a string of hurricanes that rapidly gained power as they approached the shore, catching residents and forecasters off guard with their intensity.

While harsher storms should trigger utilities to further harden their power grids by burying power lines and strengthening poles, that’s something utility Florida Power & Light says it did in the years before Ian. But with thousands of residents still without power a week later, the state may want to take a cue from a newly built community not far from the devastated city of Fort Myers. Babcock Ranch, which calls itself “America’s first solar-powered town,” didn’t lose power during the storm thanks to its undergrounded lines and nearby solar array. Its specially built landscaping funneled floodwaters away from homes.

And while it’s likely not a welcome message for anyone who just lost their home, federal aid to Ian victims has come with a word of caution from FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell: “Make informed decisions” before rebuilding in a disaster-prone area.