President Obama has called it "Snowmageddon." The nation's capital is caught in the grip of the worst stretch of winter weather in recorded history: 45 inches to date, which currently ranks third behind the winter of 1995-6 (46 inches) and the winter of 1898-99 (54 inches) — see the chart at the Washington Post's "Capital Weather Gang." The 10-20 inches about to hit the Washington area overnight should push this winter to the No. 1 spot.
The problems associated with these winter storms range from limited government services (e.g., school and post office closings) to limited mobility (many secondary roads remain unplowed). But the worst challenge facing the local population is power outages. Today, more than three days after the first storm, 15,000 families still do not have electricity. I talked to one man in Great Falls, Va., whose subdivision has been without power since Feb. 6. Talk about adding insult to injury — not only did the temperature in his house dip to 35 degrees F. last night, but he missed the Super Bowl. He and his daughter are fortunate enough to have family in the area to move in with, but many others have no where to go.
In all, more than 300,000 people from DC to Pennsylvania were left without electricity for some period of time over the past few days, including my family. But in coming years when NEMA, NIST and other stakeholders implement a fully functioning Smart Grid, such outages won't take such a toll on our communities.
According to NEMA Smart Grid Director Paul Molitor:
"The first thing that Smart Grid has to offer is auto-discovery of outages. Many of the recent callers to WTOP news radio were upset about having to chase through the automated phone system in order to get to the point where they would enter their phone number to report the outage. Smart Grid will sense this information on its own — no customer interaction will be necessary. Smart Grid also promises to reduce the severity of the outages. Some outages are going to be unavoidable — there is nothing the Smart Grid can do about snow-laden limbs falling on and collapsing power lines. However, with a fully-integrated, intelligent grid, automated switches will isolate the outage and route around any such breakage. With the Smart Grid in place, we could reduce the number of affected businesses and households, allowing the power company to focus on the 'broken' areas using the self reporting described above."
It's during severe weather like we're experiencing here that people appreciate the electricity grid. With the implementation of Smart Grid, they'll appreciate it that much more.