The U.S. Electric Grid vs Extreme Weather: Hurricane Irene has shown us how well disaster prep can work in densely populated areas like the East Coast. There were a minimal number of deaths from the storm directly, but 4 million are/were without power.
That’s because of the way our power grid is interconnected, with hundreds of thousands of miles of high-voltage wires, and millions of miles of distribution lines.
Because of today’s connected grid, utilities are able to supply electricity to large areas with fewer power plants. Further, these connections make it easier for operators to balance supply and demand in the case of unexpected outages. But, this grid has also created a lot of expensive infrastructure that is susceptible to damage in extreme weather events.
In 2008, between $500 and $600 million was spent in region surrounding New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Gustav damaged local electrical facilities. Four years earlier, Hurricane Ivan caused power outages from Venezuela to Canada – resulting in another huge price tag. It is reasonable to expect that, out of the $7 billion in estimated damages from Irene, a significant percentage of this total will be spent on bringing power back to the communities hit by the storm.