Improving reliability through new technology

You count on us to keep the lights on and to power your community every day.

And we know that when power outages happen, they can be frustrating and disruptive—you often ask us what we’re doing to prevent outages from happening.

We asked Lia MacDonald, VP of Transmission and Distribution, Mike Hickey, Reliability Initiatives Lead, and Jonathan MacIntosh, Senior Manager of Asset Reliability and Risk Management, to share their thoughts on how we’re strengthening our electrical system through new technology, innovation, and proactive planning.

What are some of the challenges our electrical system faces today?

Lia MacDonald: The foundation of our electrical system was established over 100 years ago when the first transmission and distribution lines, substations, and power plants were connected to generate and distribute power to Nova Scotians. These transmission lines were built as the crow flies—using routes that were the shortest possible distance between power plants and substations to limit the distance power had to travel. The goal was to electrify Nova Scotia as quickly as possible. It’s a system that’s stood the test of time and evolved with us over the last century—but it’s also brought challenges.

Mike Hickey: The way our system was set up means that power lines don’t always take the most efficient path. They often run through heavily wooded areas and even private backyards. Tree trimming has been crucial in preventing outages—and through the dedication of our crews, we’re able to access our equipment and lines in even the most remote corners of Nova Scotia. But as climate change brings more frequent and severe storms, evolving our system so that we can continue to provide reliable electricity is our priority.

What causes most of our power outages?

Mike Hickey: Severe weather is one of the top causes of power outages in Nova Scotia. High wind, snow and ice can cause damage to our electrical system—and its impacts lead to weakened trees which cause the majority of outages. We often see the effects of severe weather in the days, weeks and even months after a major storm.  We regularly assess the condition of our infrastructure and trees in hard-hit areas following a major storm—this can require follow-up work to address new reliability risks before the next storm hits.

Jonathan MacIntosh: The last 10 years have brought an increase in storms and hurricanes. More than ever, we’re seeing sustained wind at over 80 km/hour—it’s not just an issue here in Nova Scotia, it’s a challenge electricity providers are faced with across the country.

So how do we stop outages from happening when the weather is getting worse?

Lia MacDonald: Our climate is changing and we need to change with it. We need to lead through innovation and evolve our system to meet today’s challenges.

Jonathan MacIntosh: Our reliability approach starts with proactive planning. We want to effectively use our resources to make upgrades and identify issues before they cause an outage. Through digital mapping technology, we can see the position of trees against where our power lines are—this means our vegetation management team can work strategically in targeted areas. We’re also evaluating ultrasonic scanning—this helps detect the high frequency sound that is given off when an insulator on one of our poles is breaking down, so we can fix the damage before there’s an issue.

Mike Hickey: We’re always inspecting, testing and monitoring our infrastructure. When we’re replacing equipment or building something new, we’re building it differently so that it can withstand more wind and harsher weather. For instance, in heavily treed communities where tree removal isn’t feasible, we’re adding line covers for added protection against fallen branches. We’re also incorporating smart protection devices that enable feeder lines that serve multiple communities to be segmented into smaller sections—this allows us to detect faults sooner, and when there’s an outage, fewer customers are impacted.  And in areas that are exposed to the coastline, we’re using larger, stronger insulators that can withstand the higher winds and salt contamination.

What does the future of our electrical system look like?

Lia MacDonald:  We’re building the electrical grid of the future—a grid that’s reliable and can accommodate more clean energy. An important step in modernizing our electricity grid is already underway this year as we install smart meters across the province. This will allow us to understand how customers are using electricity, including when they lose power so we can respond much faster. We’ve also launched a pilot through the Smart Grid Nova Scotia project that will allow us to explore how battery storage can provide back-up power for customers in the event of a power outage.

Mike Hickey:  When it comes to reliability, we’re leaving no stone unturned. I believe we’re on the cutting edge with available technology—it’s in our DNA as a company to solve problems. We’re always looking forward. We’re building a stronger, smarter system that can withstand the impacts of climate change.

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