More Than 10 Million People Lost Power in Florida
Thanks to Hurricane Irma, the southwest of the state’s electrical grid will need a “wholesale rebuild.”
Hurricane Irma slammed the west coast of Florida on Sunday, making landfall first in the Keys and then at Marco Island, 15 miles south of Naples. Since then, it’s been making its way northward, visiting destruction on the state as it weakens.
As the storm progressed through Florida, it knocked out the lights all over the state. In a press conference Monday morning, Eric Silagy, the president of the state’s largest electric utility, Florida Power and Light, estimated that more than half the state is without power. That’s more than 10 million people, which dwarfs the number who lost electricity during Hurricane Sandy, which had been the record holder for hurricane-related power problems with 6.2 million affected.
Florida Power and Light is the nation’s third-largest utility and provides power to 4.9 million homes and businesses. Early Monday morning, 4.4 million of those customers had lost power, some multiple times, as the utility restored service and then it was knocked out again. “We’ve had over 5 million outages across our territory. That is unprecedented,” Silagy said. “We’ve never had that many outages. I don’t think any utility across the country has. It is, by far, the largest in the history of our company.”
Already, the company has restored 1 million connections, though some only temporarily.
On Sunday, the utility’s VP of communications, Rob Gould, told ABC that residents on the east coast could expect a standard post-storm restoration timeline, but that the west coast’s electrical grid would need a “wholesale rebuild.”
“This is going to be a very, very lengthy restoration, arguably the longest and most complex in U.S. history,” Gould said.
That task will begin very soon. The company plans to have 16,000 people, including thousands from other utilities, working out on the lines.
The restoration of power to western Florida will be a test of the resilience of Florida Light and Power’s vaunted smart-grid infrastructure. The utility says it has invested over $3 billion in making its grid “stronger, smarter, and more storm-resilient.”
It was standing with FPL’s CEO that President Obama announced $3.4 billion in smart-grid grants through the Department of Energy as part of the stimulus package, and when the utility finished its smart-grid installation in 2013, it was lauded as smart-grid technology’s coming-of-age moment.
All the investment appeared to pay off last year during hurricanes Hermine and Matthew. All the fancy new gear prevented some outages and helped the utility get things back running quickly.The Edison Electric Institute, a utility-industry trade group, gave FPL two awards earlier this year for “Emergency Recovery” and “Emergency Assistance” because of its performance during the 2016 hurricanes.
In other words, FPL’s grid was about the best the country could have brought to the table. And now, apparently, Irma has laid waste to at least a large chunk of that system.
What could a “wholesale rebuild” mean?
An electric grid is a complex technical system. There are power plants that feed electricity onto the grid and there are consumer loads that take the power. In between, there is connective tissue that allows for long-distance transmission of power as well as for the local distribution of that electricity: high-voltage transmission lines, substations, transformers, and regular local power lines.
Generally speaking, power outages usually happen toward the edges of the network, when local power lines get snapped or their poles are felled.