Why do your lights flicker but stay on during a storm? The ‘smart’ solution growing in Florida

Utility companies are working to harden Florida’s power grid

ORLANDO, Fla. – What are the chances, the next time we have a storm, that your power will stay on?

Those chances get better and better every year because the utilities serving Central Florida are spending more and more money to harden the electrical grid.

And one of the best improvements against a storm is “smart” technology.

You saw it being put to the test while I was live on television last week in North Florida as Idalia barreled through.

If you’ve ever noticed during a storm, a mild one or a major one, when your lights flicker but the power stays on or comes back on almost immediately, that’s not an accident. It’s actually a solution that our utilities have spent decades implementing.

I watched it happen in front of my eyes seven times: transformers exploded, the lights flickered, but we did not lose power.

Here in Central Florida, Duke Energy calls that “self-healing” technology and has been installing the upgrades on utility poles across the counties it serves for almost two decades.

Audrey Stasko, spokesperson for Duke Energy, explained how self-healing works.

“It works very similar to your GPS in your car where you’re going along on your path and your GPS notices a crash and actually reroutes you on a different path,” Stasko said. “So that’s exactly what happens with self-healing technology.”

Sensors connected by cell service detect the outage, isolate it, and then the systems at substations reroute power through the lines that are still intact. All in seconds.

Just in Seminole County, Duke said 95,000 customers are now served by the self-healing technology out of the 160,000 total households. That’s 58%.

“But I can tell you we’re currently at 60% of our Duke Energy Florida customers served by self-healing technologies with the goal of having 80% over the next few years,” Stasko said.

Florida Power and Light, which serves Brevard, Flagler, Volusia and also Seminole counties, has been upgrading its grid against storms since 2006, improving reliability by 41% since then, according to an FPL spokesperson. It includes strengthening power lines and poles, trimming back thousands of miles of trees along power lines, and burying above-ground wires.

After the 2016 storms, Florida lawmakers required power companies to harden the grid and submit a 10-year storm protection plan to the Florida Public Service Commission.

But all of that, of course, comes with a price. Duke just raised rates again in April and plans to continue upgrading the grid for at least the next 10 years to serve 100% of customers with self-healing technology.

“I think as new technologies come out and we experience more severe storms than we have in the past, we will continue to strengthen the grid and make these improvements to benefit our customers and provide service to them, a better service to them,” Stasko said.

Those continual upgrades mean you will likely continue to see rate hikes in your bill in the near future to pay for the upgrades and storm recovery costs.

Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily:

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for News 6 and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting.