Learning from Hurricane Sandy

by Nurcin Celik

The recent landfall of Hurricane Sandy caused incalculable damages in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Northeastern United States, causing record floods, leaving more than 170 deaths and power outages for more than 8 million people. This natural disaster has once again evidenced how critical a reliable source of energy has become to everyday life, with the blackout causing severe disruptions in people’s ability to heat their homes, refrigerate and cook their food.

In order to have a reliable electrical network that may respond to these emergencies, there is a great deal of research questions that need to be addressed by engineers, industrial, systems or electrical; especially when the world is turning towards the green energy. From the traditional capacity planning perspective, questions such as “Which type of plants should we build (i.e., coal-burning, renewable-based, or nuclear)? What is the best size for the each one of these plants? Can or should we close any of the currently operating fossil fuel plants? What is the best combination of locations and size for the distributed generation units?arise immediately.  A more recent area concerned with the environmental challenges from meeting our energy needs is public policies and regulations which addresses the questions such as “Should we use emissions taxes? What should be the tax rates? Should we use Cap and Trade? What should be the maximum emissions? How can we evaluate the operation of Micro-grids? What is the effect of Micro-grids on energy prices? What is the best tradeoff between energy cost and reliability?”.  The factor that is tightly related to both of these major research areas is on how they will be handling the emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy.  How a possible catastrophical abnormality can be detected? And once detected, what series of actions should be taken for the best possible result (or minimum damage in other words)?.  Here, modeling and simulation can be of tremendous help in  providing invaluable insight into these critical decisions.  It becomes even more powerful when smart decision making mechanisms are embedded to it, let it be for offline analysis or for real-time decision making.  That may be why we have started to see a significant increase in the attention being made to the use of modeling and simulation among these areas.  Several research centers have been opened within the United States with support from Department of Energy alone during the past decade.   It is also encouraging to see that these very same problems were highlighted during the ISERC, INFORMS and WSC conferences, among others.

So, we look forward to seeing more works addressing these very critical issues!