Lightning is a powerful, uncontrollable force of nature. That doesn’t mean we have to sit back and let it interrupt service to customers, though.

A lightning performance improvement program strengthened reliability this summer on some of PPL Electric Utilities’ hardest-hit transmission lines. Based on strong early results, plans are being made to expand the program to other transmission lines that frequently fall victim to lightning strikes.

“We’re committed to improving reliability across the system, and that includes taking on the seasonal challenge of lightning strikes,” said Matt Green, director-Asset Management & Strategy for PPL Electric Utilities. “We can’t stop lightning, but we can limit its impact on our operations.”

On average, lightning strikes on the transmission system cause 120 outages each year. These outages generally occur on older lines that were not built to the same storm-hardening standards the company uses today.

To improve performance, engineers identified 10 older circuits throughout the utility’s service area that most frequently suffer lightning-related outages. Those lines, mostly 69-kilovolt, were upgraded with improved grounding, new insulators, the installation of lightning arrestors and other improvements.

The results of this work are as clear as a bolt against the night sky. So far this year, the 10 targeted lines have not seen a single lightning-related outage – even though PPL Electric Utilities’ service territory has actually seen more lightning strikes this year than last.

As the company rebuilds other older lines, it’s installing stronger lightning protection there, too. As a result of these investments, the number of systemwide momentary interruptions caused by lightning is down 25 percent compared to last year – again, despite stormier weather.

“This effort started about a year-and-a-half ago, when we analyzed our reliability performance and decided we needed to do something about this issue,” Green said. “Everyone involved has shown a commitment to getting this work done in time to make a real difference this summer.”

Plans call for similar improvements to be made to additional lower-performing lines in time for next summer’s “lightning season.”