From its prompting of citizens to socially distance themselves to its rising infection rates and economic devastation, the novel coronavirus pandemic has meant unprecedented, tragic disruption. It’s against that backdrop that a Black & Veatch initiative is leading a push to find and collaborate with startups and other innovators to expedite solutions that soften COVID-19’s impact on communities, with the hope that the future applications also extend beyond the pandemic itself.
When Kenyan marathon great Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line at 1:59:40 in Vienna in late 2019, crashing through one of sport’s once-unbreakable barriers by covering the distance in less than two hours, skeptics pounced. He had help, after all: There were no competitors. He picked just the right day, with just the right conditions. Handpicked world-class pacesetters ran the road with Kipchoge, forming a protective bubble around him to thwart drag. Nutrition was handed to him in stride.
In the world of all things water, there has been a persistently murky issue for landowners: Which surface water features on their property are subject to federal regulation? After decades of such uncertainty, a final rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is providing a definition of which waters are subject to Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting that will guide business owners who are exploring infrastructure development.
For all the positives, renewable energy and applications that change how and when energy is used — from electric vehicles (EVs) to energy storage technologies — are rattling the conventional power industry, propelling its transformation to clean energy technology. But headwinds, including rigorous regulations and consumer expectations of reliability, may make the process feel like a bridge too far instead of a once-in-a-century opportunity.
With great power comes great responsibility, meaning it falls to utilities to ensure that their transmission and distribution (T&D) assets can — and will — perform at the appropriate reliability and safety levels while continuing to meet regulatory and environmental standards.
For power suppliers wanting to be vigilant about the threat that hackers pose to the grid, a March 2019 intrusion may have been a benign warning about vulnerability. When hackers disabled a Utah-based renewable energy developer’s control system for about a dozen solar and wind farms in the West, the grid’s operators were left blinded for more than 10 hours to those 500 megawatts of generation sites. Thankfully, no outages resulted.
Hydropower producers make economic choices constantly to maintain the reliability and safety of their assets while trying to operate efficiently and meet regulations. It’s not easy. It’s also never-ending. Facilities age, rules change, economics evolve.
There’s no doubt that the lure of 5G digitalization is strong. This wave of next-generation connectivity is expected to usher in exciting new opportunities such as wide-scale adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), along with all its innovative new technologies that promise to change how we live, work and play.
Reliable communications networks are crucial to allow utilities to deliver an uninterrupted supply of power to customers. With high-speed wireless technology at the fore, and the addition of hundreds of new field applications that require communications networks — including Long-Term Evolution (LTE) — a digital utility is built on communications that extend to the edge. Converged networks employing IP-advanced private wireless networks enable these systems to become more efficient and extend deeper into the distribution system, where they’re most needed.
The answer, of course, depends on who you ask, but as they evolve from century-old (and occasionally millennia-old) roots, today’s critical infrastructure service providers are grappling with a range of forces that can redefine their businesses and the world we live in. Adapting their organizations to a more distributed, data-driven world is key to their futures, if they can harness new, integrated approaches to asset management, data quality management, capital planning and how things get built with improved IPD construction data.
Let’s face it: The old days were much simpler, when the flow of power from the utility to end-user was, for the most part, a straight line. There were challenges, but there wasn’t much getting in the way between baseload power generation and the light switch.
Ask anyone who’s been in the utility world for a while, and they’ll assuredly tell you: most utilities have operated in silos, separate groups focused squarely on their own little corner of the business. The silo mentality thrives when members of one department don’t share information with other departments, operate with separate goals, use different tools, and follow different processes than those folks across the hall.
When it comes to grid modernization, where utilities want to spend money — and where they have approval to spend money — are not the same thing. Under today’s regulatory models, utilities typically do not have a way to recapture all the fixed costs required for critical upgrades. This can mean the choice between keeping the lights on today and preparing the grid for the challenges of the future.
As climate change continues to flex its catastrophic muscle, a storm is brewing for U.S. utilities. The scourge of extreme weather events — prolonged droughts, pounding hurricanes and deluges blamed for unprecedented flooding — are joining wildfires as challenges that have utilities scrambling to harden their assets to provide the resilience that consumers and regulators demand. Unrelenting threats of cyberattacks and the rising number of technologies that increase the load and strain on infrastructure assets add to the complexity.
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