Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 74, Issue 10, pp 2221–2241 | Cite as

Potential impacts from tephra fall to electric power systems: a review and mitigation strategies

  • J. B. Wardman
  • T. M. Wilson
  • P. S. Bodger
  • J. W. Cole
  • C. Stewart
Review Article


Modern society is highly dependent on a reliable electricity supply. During explosive volcanic eruptions, tephra contamination of power networks (systems) can compromise the reliability of supply. Outages can have significant cascading impacts for other critical infrastructure sectors and for society as a whole. This paper summarises known impacts to power systems following tephra falls since 1980. The main impacts are (1) supply outages from insulator flashover caused by tephra contamination, (2) disruption of generation facilities, (3) controlled outages during tephra cleaning, (4) abrasion and corrosion of exposed equipment and (5) line (conductor) breakage due to tephra loading. Of these impacts, insulator flashover is the most common disruption. The review highlights multiple instances of electric power systems exhibiting tolerance to tephra falls, suggesting that failure thresholds exist and should be identified to avoid future unplanned interruptions. To address this need, we have produced a fragility function that quantifies the likelihood of insulator flashover at different thicknesses of tephra. Finally, based on our review of case studies, potential mitigation strategies are summarised. Specifically, avoiding tephra-induced insulator flashover by cleaning key facilities such as generation sites and transmission and distribution substations is of critical importance in maintaining the integrity of an electric power system.


Volcanic ash Eruption Electricity Generation Transmission Distribution Substation 



The authors wish to thank Transpower New Zealand, Ltd. (Wardman, Wilson), Ministry of Science and Innovation Grant C05X0804 (Wilson, Cole), and the Earthquake Commission for funding support. We thank Victoria Sword-Daniels for review of an early draft of the paper. We thank Grant Heiken, Kim Genareau and Bill Rose for their insightful and supportive reviews of this manuscript and Steve Self as editor. Finally, thank you to the power system operators and personnel who gave up their time to provide invaluable information for this study.

Supplementary material

445_2012_664_MOESM1_ESM.docx (118 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 118 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. B. Wardman
    • 1
  • T. M. Wilson
    • 1
  • P. S. Bodger
    • 2
  • J. W. Cole
    • 1
  • C. Stewart
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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