Utah's electrical grid considered more resilient against severe weather

Posted at 10:44 AM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 12:44:37-05

Texans have been struggling with power outages after mother nature pushed a powerful winter storm in the state's direction in mid-February.

This kind of severe weather is something Utah is all too familiar with, but even though we deal with outages when severe weather hits, they don't tend to knock out power to the entire state.

Masood Parvania, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah said, "When a large event happens, our system doesn’t get a lot of outages, but also we recover faster because the infrastructure is planned for that."

The infrastructure Parvania is referring to includes more switches and sensors.

These help repair crews track down the exact location of outages a lot faster and the switches can also be accessed remotely.

This makes simple system reboots easier because they can be done virtually, saving more time in the process, but with this remote access comes an added layer of danger for our power grid.

"The more connectivity you add to the systems, specifically infrastructure, you are also increasing the vulnerability to cyberattacks," said Parvania.

This is why the associate professor designs cybersecurity solutions in his Utah Smart Energy Lab at the University of Utah to help patch any possible weaknesses that hackers may go after.

"First, we test them in the lab environment so that they can be validated before being taken into the operation in the real world," said Parvania.

Another issue Texas deals with is how isolated it is on its own power grid.

Utah is on what's called The Western Interconnection - which includes a lot of the western states, a couple of provinces in Canada, and a small part of Mexico.

This means the other connected areas can help compensate for smaller outages and save us from a total blackout.

The university professor did note that even if the Texas power grid was linked to other states, it may not have been enough to avoid the catastrophic failure because other Midwestern states were also dealing with some outages caused by the severe weather.