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Cara Hogan
By Cara Hogan
Cara Hogan
Cara Hogan
Cara Hogan is the VP of Enterprise Marketing at Tomorrow.io, the world’s weather intelligence platform. Previously, she worked at Zaius, an ecommerce marketing platform, and InsightSquared, a SaaS analytics company. Before transitioning to marketing, she worked as a journalist at a number of publications, including the Boston Globe. When she isn’t writing, podcasting, or filming, she’s surfing, rock climbing, or reading a good book.
Jun 26, 2023· 11 min, 48 sec

The Utility and Energy Guide to Mastering Weather Operations

energy

Power outages make terrible headlines for utility and energy companies.

Especially in the age of social media, news about weather-related outages spreads easily and utility companies face more scrutiny from consumers and investors alike whenever outages occur. 

And outages these days are costly. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the reliance on power eb and flow, increasing dramatically in 2020 with people working from home and natural disasters weighing heavily on the need for constant power. Now in 2023, those numbers have begun to level out

Despite this, the loss of power has somehow remained a big issue, with customers, offices, and businesses, demanding to be back online immediately no matter where they are. 

Writing about the power outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaias in 2020, the New York Times reported:

“People who lost power for more than a week this month described in interviews a level of psychological distress beyond what they had felt after prior storms. Some of this had to do with the baffling length of the outages after what seemed a simple storm.”

But it’s not just hurricanes and other storms that can impact service for utility and energy companies.

In 2023 alone, there have been 7 confirmed weather and climate disaster event with losses exceeding $1 billion, all of which have disrupted services and required utility and energy companies to work in overdrive to solve.  

Not only do these weather events not play well for utilities in the court of public opinion, but it also costs us big. 

In total, power outages cost the U.S. economy more than $150 billion each year and it’s estimated the cost of damages and lost revenues could rise by 23% to a total of approximately $1.7 billion by 2050. And that’s with us taking into account the annual number of billion-dollar weather events that can cause these outages. 

So what can utility and energy companies do to stop the bleeding?

The answer is simple: weather intelligence. 

What is Weather Intelligence?

Dashboard Insights from Tomorrow.io

Traditionally, we’ve functioned by watching and creating weather forecasts based on available weather data from government entities like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But there is more weather data out there and there’s more than can be informing our forecasts and more that these forecasts can be providing us. 

These days, that 3-day forecast isn’t enough to help us operate around the weather. We need weather intelligence to help us understand the true impacts of the weather on our businesses and cities, especially when they directly affect the utilities and energy sectors. 

Weather intelligence is a better way to understand the impact of weather on your operations and can help people prepare for severe weather that could ultimately affect hundreds of thousands of people. 

With weather intelligence, you gain a new kind of forecast that puts the weather forecast in context for your specific business or government organization.

How Does Extreme Weather Impact Us?

Extreme weather events such as hurricanes and heat waves are likely to become more of a challenge in the coming years. Everything from earthquakes, geomagnetic storms, and tornadoes are expected to increase, according to Accenture’s Digitally Enabled Grid research,

While utilities and energy companies clearly understand the risks, few are very well-prepared to deal with the impacts of extreme weather.

Accenture’s research found that:

  • 92% of utility executives expect research expect extreme weather events to increase
  • Almost three-quarters of utility executives said that extreme weather events represent a significant challenge to network operations and safety
  • The top-ranked weather concerns for network resilience include very high winds (23%), flooding (17%), and winter ice and snowstorms (15%)

And as more frequent and severe heat waves and other extreme weather events stress the energy system, it’s likely to increase the frequency and severity of power outages.

Evidence of the damage caused by storms is already apparent. During Hurricane Irene in 2011, 44 power plants were in flooded areas. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, 69 power plants were in flooded areas. Eight nuclear power plants had to shut down or reduce service just during these two hurricanes.

More than 8 million customers across 21 states lost power during Hurricane Sandy while there was damage to more than 15,000 power poles and 7,000 transformers.

It got worse for Hurricane Harvey in 2017. According to the Department of Energy, wind and catastrophic flooding knocked down or damaged more than 6,200 distribution poles and 850 transmission structures. In total, 21.4 gigawatts of generation were affected by wind damage, flooding damage, fuel supply issues, or evacuations and shutdowns.

Hurricane Aftermath

And during the incredibly active 2020 Hurricane Season, we’ve seen power outages with nearly every major storm since. And the unexpected Derecho event in Iowa knocked out power lines thanks to Hurricane-level winds and thunderstorms.

The impact of extreme weather is simply not slowing down, and energy and utility companies have to plan now how to respond quickly and efficiently to outages.

The Challenges of Everyday Weather

At the same time, while big storms get the headlines, even an everyday storm can also cause serious damage to utilities.

Slightly high wind speeds can still take down power lines and damage infrastructure. All it takes is a lack of strategic vegetation management and a downed tree limb can impact many of your customers.

Map Visuals from Tomorrow.io’s Weather Intelligence Platform

Unfortunately, this type of weather damage is a bit harder to prepare for because it doesn’t get the same headlines and attention. While utility and energy companies are always on top of a large storm moving toward their service area, standard weather may catch your team unaware.

Many utility companies still use 30-year-old historical weather data averages to predict future weather patterns and project future demand and rates. According to reliable sources, using 30-year surface temperature averages as estimates of future temperatures leads to a “cold bias”, which means predicting temperatures will be colder than those experienced.

This has an effect on the ability to accurately forecast demand: weather forecast errors can account for 40% to 90% of demand forecast error.

The London School of Economics reports that: “Particular weather patterns can give rise to large errors in the day-ahead forecast, such as prolonged heat spells, fronts, marine boundary layers, sea breezes, Santa Annas and thunderstorms.”

In one case, a large temperature forecast error led to a 7% under-forecast of electricity demand. To meet demand, the utility company had to buy on the spot, which was costly.

It works the other way as well. If you don’t have up-to-date weather data, it’s easy to over forecast demand and commit to generation, only for temperatures to rise and demand to drop. Although over-forecasting is less costly than under-forecasting as you don’t risk system instability or a lack of reliability, it’s still something that could be mitigated with more insight into both historical and day-to-day weather patterns.

It’s impossible to predict exactly how a weather event will affect utility companies, but there are better ways to prepare, both assessing the likelihood of these events happening and recurring, and deciding on the best course of action to take to mitigate damage. With the cost and complexity of utilities’ operations, it’s crucial to turn weather forecasts into actionable intelligence about how a company’s operations might be affected by different weather events.

The Power of Early Decision Making

Making the right decisions at the right time is critical for utility companies when it comes to improving operational efficiency, reducing costs, and minimizing safety risks. But using a single weather forecast isn’t enough.

Leading Metocean Scientist Dr. Edward Steele explains how predictive intelligence could save the industry time, resources, and money.

“Let’s say, for instance, a company wants to plan a routine operation or maintenance activity. With just a single [weather] prediction, they could be fairly confident the calm conditions they need to successfully carry out the work are coming up in three days’ time.

However, by properly using the full extent of the available uncertainty information, they would also not only have an early awareness of suitable conditions at a longer lead team but also an indication as to if this is likely to be the only workable weather window over the coming weeks ahead.

This additional context is vital for planning. It means the company’s asset manager can book equipment and coordinate staff with much greater confidence, as well as prioritize any activities accordingly.”

Making better operational decisions earlier is key to ensuring the safety of employees and to reducing asset damage.

Positioning crews in advance to better respond to weather events ensures they can be dispatched quickly to reduce outage time and minimize the time it takes to restore power. But utility companies want to avoid putting workers in hazardous situations, whether that’s in terms of vegetation management, or when working in areas with poor air quality due to wildfires.

Air Quality Monitoring via Tomorrow.io’s Weather Intelligence Platform

Knowing the expected conditions allows managers to better prepare and equip teams to keep them safe from unnecessary harm.

Making early decisions also improves asset management processes. Being able to secure resources earlier reduces costs and avoids losing thousands of pounds per day in unplanned downtime. While the ideal scenario is to avoid any downtime, better data and weather intelligence can also let customers know about potential outages in advance, improving satisfaction rates and allowing individuals and organizations to make contingency plans.

Predictive intelligence can also keep the cost of hiring equipment down by proactively identifying areas where infrastructure is weakest and most prone to damage by extreme weather. Using historical storm data, you can identify the best weather window for maintenance work in advance, and to make your business more resilient.

Leveraging AI-Backed Weather Intelligence

By using a predictive weather intelligence insights dashboard, you can get the necessary data on a hyperlocal level on a 24/7 basis to allow you to move beyond single weather forecasts.

Instead, you get the context and business insight that enables you to shift your attention to optimizing operational plans and understanding how upcoming weather will impact demand in real time. For example:

  • What threshold of wind speed will knock down tree limbs?
  • What wind speed will knock over power lines?
  • What level of flooding will impact your assets?
  • What areas are in need of better vegetation management?

Understanding this data is key to preparing for everyday weather events that can still cause challenges for your team and cause service disruptions. With this data in mind, you can be more proactive and adapt to incoming weather conditions using an insights dashboard like the one below, which alerts you when the weather exceeds your safety parameters.

Power Outage Preparation Insights from Tomorrow.io

Using weather to strategize operational plans in advance can have a significant impact and allow you to:

  • Reduce Outage Time: Pre-position crews where outages will have the largest financial impact
  • Enhance Generation Forecasting: Get high-resolution data providing 10x granularity for generation forecasting
  • Load and Power Curve Optimization: Better adjust and prepare for upcoming weather-driven supply and demand
  • Strategic Dispatch: Anticipate demand based on forecasted weather and interruptions
  • Minimize Asset Damage: Save millions on preventative maintenance and avoid significant unplanned damage
  • Vegetation Management: Save millions by optimizing team needs and schedules around weather conditions
  • Mitigate Crew and Safety Risk: Ensure employees are working in safe conditions to avoid hazardous situations like lightning strikes
  • Alerts, Messaging & Response Protocols: Automate communication throughout the company and across teams to improve accuracy

Preparing for Cyclones with Predictive Weather Insights

IndiGrid, one of the largest electric utility companies in India, was able to focus and prepare in advance for cyclone impact by using Tomorrow.io’s predictive weather intelligence engine to avoid major disruption and damages and ensure customers had power during a massive and destructive storm. 

cyclone amphan

Using Tomorrow.io’s Weather API integration and Insights Dashboard, IndiGrid was able to benefit from the following insight:

  • Two days before the cyclone arrived, the Tomorrow.io dashboard showed the expected time, duration, intensity, location, and impact of the storm across IndiGrid’s 400 locations
  • On the day of the cyclone, Tomorrow.io confirmed 10+ hours in advance the 2 locations that were at most risk of damage allowing the customer to focus and preposition crew members at those locations
  • During the cyclone, IndiGrid used Tomorrow.io’s HyperCast dashboard make the right decisions at the right times, including when the storm would be over so teams could immediately restore power

Weather intelligence can help utility companies like IndiGrid improve operational efficiency, make critical decisions earlier, and better manage risk while helping make your business more resilient.

Learn how Tomorrow.io can help you optimize energy and utility operations.

How Does Weather Intelligence Support Utilities?

Weather intelligence has the ability to support the energy and utilities sectors by helping them better prepare for incoming severe weather that is going to create power outages and prevent people from going about their daily lives. 

Because weather intelligence is a better and new kind of way to forecast weather in a way that contextualizes each user’s needs, it can transform the way utility companies operate around approaching volatile weather. Whether these companies are going to be hit by intense heat waves, flooding that brings down powerlines, or snow that shuts things off, with the power of weather intelligence behind them they can stay ahead of the game and keep customers happy. 

Improve Operational Excellence With Tomororw.io

The challenge utility and energy companies face in maintaining service amid extreme and everyday weather events is causing companies to rethink the way they operate around these extremes. The toll of these events on the economy, infrastructure, and our lives is profound. 

Despite these challenges, the path forward relies on harnessing weather intelligence to operate efficiently, optimally, and successfully. This cutting-edge approach enhances operational decisions, optimizes resource management, minimizes safety risks, and ultimately strengthens the resilience of businesses. 

Learn more about what Tomorrow.io can do for utilities in Indigrid’s customer story.

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