MISO powers hurricane preparedness with cutting-edge science

Partnership with Argonne National Laboratory supports realistic exercise

The official 2018 Atlantic hurricane season began June 1, and National Weather Service forecasters say it could be another active year, following a “devastating” 2017 season.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, with regional transmission responsibilities for much of the country’s middle-section and parts of the Gulf South, invests substantially in hurricane readiness. MISO has turned to leading experts at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to help prepare its staff to face the most trying circumstances.

In May, MISO – with help from Argonne – held two hurricane preparedness exercises coordinated from its Little Rock, Arkansas, control center. MISO and member utility system operators worked together to keep the power grid stable as a simulated storm set its sights on the Gulf Coast region, eventually tracking up the Mississippi River.

“Hurricanes and similarly powerful storms pose a formidable threat to the electric grid,” explained Tag Short, MISO’s director of South Region Operations. “MISO goes to extensive lengths to understand the potential impacts of these events and to proactively prepare our people and resources to protect the grid.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted a volatile 2017 season – a forecast that proved accurate as 17 named storms produced 10 hurricanes. Six were major hurricanes and included the first two major hurricanes – Harvey and Irma – to hit the continental U.S. in 12 years, according to NOAA.

For the 2018 June 1 to Nov. 30 hurricane season, NOAA says there is a “35 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 25 percent chance of a below-normal season.”

Hurricanes can easily destroy power lines and uproot other critical infrastructure, taking lives – and livelihoods – in their wake.

“MISO’s primary objective is to maintain the high-voltage transmission system that forms the backbone of the grid in our region,” Short said. “We work hand-in-hand with our members and local utilities to maintain the balance between energy supply and demand instant by instant. This is fundamental to maintaining stability and reliability for the grid, and it can be a constant challenge as hurricane-like forces begin to impact infrastructure.”

As more vulnerable, local distribution-level systems serving individual homes are impacted – MISO and other grid-level operators must act quickly to keep the bulk electric system stable.

In times of emergency – protecting the grid that serves more than 42 million people in the MISO 15-state footprint is the top priority.

Following defined emergency operating procedures, MISO may need to reroute power flows, increase or decrease generation on the system, call on back-up electric reserves and, in rare circumstances, temporarily shed load to specific areas to protect the integrity of the grid.

Training is key to being prepared to handle the worst conditions. Argonne scientists use sophisticated technology to run the most effective hurricane exercises.

“MISO sought out the laboratory’s expertise,” said Gerald Rusin, senior advisor for MISO’s South Region Operations team. “Their ability to incorporate a realistic hurricane simulation event into our operator training objectives sets this drill above all others.”

“We have been working with MISO since 2015 and held our first hurricane training in 2016,” said Guenter Conzelmann, group leader and director of the laboratory’s Center for Energy, Environmental and Economic Systems Analysis.

Conzelmann and his team offer cutting-edge technology that allows precise modeling and analysis for large-scale, potentially catastrophic events. With support from the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity and the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response, they work with regional transmission operators and utilities across the country to support preparedness.

“To develop our scenario, we use a combination of historical hurricane events and national hurricane center data,” noted Leah Talaber, a technical infrastructure analyst with the laboratory. “We use advanced data analytics to carefully develop all the parameters needed to describe the storm, such as wind speeds and storm surge, as it unfolds over a period of days – typically five days before landfall to several days after landfall.”

“The next step is to estimate the physical damage to the different grid components resulting from the storm,” explained Steve Folga, manager of Argonne’s Infrastructure Analysis group. His team uses sophisticated models to predict which power plants, transmission lines or substations will be damaged during the storm.

“Not only do we look at impacts on the grid, but our models allow us to identify interdependency issues as well by looking at the effects on the fuel infrastructure and telecommunications,” Folga said.

This data then feeds into MISO’s advanced simulator program, which mimics system outages and other impacts. MISO and member system operators are able to watch the storm’s progression, plan and respond to events as if it were really happening.

Argonne electrical engineer Jim Kavicky noted the scenario is built with operators in mind.
“It is designed from the grid perspective,” Kavicky added. “To be effective, the scenario must be realistic in all respects – the path, intensity, the distribution of wind speed and storm surge. It must be real to engage the operators.”

Leading the MISO team, Rusin along with Kavicky and his colleagues spent several months perfecting the scenario.

The May scenario presented operators with a Category 4 storm that made landfall near Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“It is a very plausible event,” Talaber said. “In fact, the storm was modeled after the 1909 Grand Isle hurricane, which was noted as the sixth worst hurricane until Katrina. We modified the storm’s track to test different impacts and responses during the exercise.”

For MISO operators, it is another way to sharpen skills.

“In this situation, operators have to react quickly to the changing conditions,” said Chris Benton, South Region reliability coordinator. “Training creates familiarity with the procedures and processes needed and provides an opportunity to practice both internal and external communications. One of the most important aspects during any event is communication. Practicing these skills before the event occurs, saves time and provides efficiency during the event.”

“Every storm will be different and present unique challenges,” Short added. “This exercise allows our team to practice a broad set of skills, from technical procedures to communication, which continually supports our readiness.”

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