'Sturdier, more weatherproof.' Improvements being made to power grids to prevent prolonged outages

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Saturday, August 19, 2023
Improvements being made to prevent prolonged power outages
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For above-ground power lines, Duke Energy said they're working to make them sturdier and more weatherproof.

The power is back on, but after 2 days in the heat, many in Durham want to know what's being done to avoid widespread outages in the future.

Duke Energy says normally we don't see these kinds of long widespread power outages unless there's a hurricane.

In Durham, the past couple of days, the downed trees which also took down power lines and poles made getting the power back on a challenge.

From older power lines to more severe weather in years ahead, it's creating a big challenge keeping the grid up to date.

In the short term, crews are focusing on managing vegetation in areas with a lot of tree cover to make sure they don't cover power lines. And, in the longer term, there are other solutions aimed at strengthening the grid to avoid long outages as the weather gets more severe.

Jordan Kern with NC State's Engineering Department says one idea often floated is moving the grid underground, but that comes with a cost.

"It's quite expensive and so when you think about pursuing something that expensive it's important to balance the cost associated with that which would go directly to consumers with the benefit," Kern says.

Duke Energy tells us they will move some lines underground where it makes sense, especially in newer developments, but for above-ground lines, it's making them sturdier and more weatherproof.

"We do see storms increasing in frequency and severity and we're engineering a grid that's built for the future, and that grid is built to withstand extreme weather," says Jeff Brooks with Duke Energy.

Parts of the Triangle have also been equipped with self-healing boxes, technology with allows power to be re-routed to mitigate the effects of an outage.

"What the system does is if it detects a problem on the line let's say a tree or limb that falls on the line it immediately looks for other lines that it can re-route power to to get power back up for customers," Brooks says.

And while that can't stop outages completely, it can help avoid larger mass outages from keeping some customers out of power for days on end.

Brooks says the same technology will also be useful for promoting alternative forms of clean energy because different energy sources can also be re-routed through that same system.

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