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PSEG LI and Univ. at  Albany focus on predicting weather-related power outages

All this comes as, "in the last 20 years we have seen an increase in extreme wind events in New York," said Jeff Freedman, University at Albany research associate. 

LIPA power lines along Motor Lane in Bethpage

LIPA power lines along Motor Lane in Bethpage on March 8. Photo Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Two teams, one based on Long Island, have been working independently this past year on an approach to get the lights back on quicker after weather-related power outages.

The University at Albany announced on Thursday a collaborative venture for a new forecasting system that should better predict and pinpoint where sustained winds and gusts of outage-producing strength can be expected. That will allow power companies and emergency managers to position resources “more efficiently, reducing restoration time,” according to a news release from the University at Albany.

At the same time, PSEG Long Island has been part of an unrelated venture, still in its early stages, for a “prediction system,” aimed also at anticipating a storm system’s impact, based on elements such as storm data and track, and vegetation, said Elizabeth F. Flagler, head of external communications.

PSEG has been working for a year with DTN, a Burnsville, Minnesota-based provider of commercial weather services, refining the model’s prediction accuracy. The goal, she said, is to determine likely damage locations and outage magnitude to help ascertain resources needed and how “to deploy them strategically prior to arrival of a storm.”

With the venture still in the development phase, results so far “have been promising,” she said.

All this comes as, “in the last 20 years we have seen an increase in extreme wind events in New York,” said Jeff Freedman, University at Albany research associate. The goal “is to predict when and where power outages might happen based on forecasted wind storms.” Consolidated Edison is also collaborating in the project along with MESO Inc., a Troy, New York-based firm that creates environmental simulation models.

Long Island, which is “very susceptible to severe weather,” can certainly benefit from the wind modeling effort, he said. That’s given the Island's “proximity to the ocean,” as well as its above-ground power lines and transmissions equipment.

Such a forecasting system would help predict elements of those rare catastrophic systems, such as superstorm Sandy, and the 90 mph gusts it delivered at Long Island MacArthur Airport. 

Some residents went weeks without power, and others much longer, as damaged electrical systems had to be repaired before the juice could be turned back on.

In addition, more familiar events, such as nor’easters and severe thunderstorms, will also be targeted. That’s because thresholds for taking out power equipment can start as low as sustained winds and gusts of 30 mph to 50 mph, Freedman said, with other elements, such as snow accumulation, heavy rains, and vegetation, being key factors as well.

Kicked off in March 2018, the Wind Extremes Forecast System should be ready for “experimental use” by mid-2020, and be customizable for other utilities in the state, the release said. Funding is coming from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Smart Grid program.

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