Post - Blog

Preparing electric utility operators for the effects of climate change

  • 9 months ago (2023-09-20)
  • Junior Isles
Climate change 20 Distribution 115 Transmission 182
Adrian McNulty

Adrian McNulty , VP Utility Solutions, IQGeo

Energy Storage & Smart Energy Tech
More info

Energy Storage & Smart Energy Tech

Extreme weather events brought about by climate change are on the rise. This puts grid infrastructure at risk, disrupting operations, and potentially endangering the public.

Many of us remember the failure of Texas' electric grid during a severe winter storm in 2021, which left more than 4.5 million households without power , or Hurricane Sandy, which struck the mainland USA in 2012, having a devastating impact on the electric grid . As society becomes increasingly dependent on uninterrupted electricity, safeguarding grids from the effects of climate change is crucial.

Despite the Paris Agreement's objective of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, studies indicate that global temperatures are projected to rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade. Consequently, electric utility operators must take action to enhance the resiliency of their grids against the potential risks associated with the climate related weather events. While this challenge impacts virtually every part of the business, a strategy to manage the physical grid infrastructure is perhaps most vital to determining the most effective approach.

Follow a proactive not reactive approach

According to a recent report from Deloitte, the utility industry has been slower than others in adapting to change, resulting in a perception of being traditional and lacking innovation . To overcome this perception and effectively prepare for current and future challenges, the industry has the opportunity to take a more prevention-oriented approach, focused on proactive management strategies.

Many electric utility operators are already taking measures to establish resilient networks capable of withstanding the impacts of climate change, investing in proactive grid management strategies will enable operators to mitigate the costly expenses and disruptions caused by severe weather incidents. Research by McKinsey indicates that every dollar invested in building resilient infrastructure saves six dollars in future repair costs , making it a beneficial long-term investment.

To initiate this process, operators should consider consolidating all grid asset data throughout the organisation into a unified view. By creating an accurate digital network model  to visualise potential threats and implementing preventive measures against existing and future risks, operators can ensure their teams are prepared to respond efficiently to worst-case scenarios.

For example, companies operating in regions prone to cold weather can draw lessons from the Texan winter storm case by comparing the factors that led to grid failure with their own network and technology strategies. By identifying similar vulnerabilities, they can implement protective measures to prevent similar failures.

Taking proactive steps in the face of climate change also carries a first-mover advantage. A more resilient grid demonstrates operators as reliable suppliers of the future, granting them a significant operational edge in uncertain times.

The power of data when responding to disasters

Achieving grid resilience isn’t just about ensuring it can stand up against foreseeable future disasters; adaptability is equally crucial. As the reality of climate change becomes apparent and unpredictable weather events increase, a robust disaster assessment and response strategy become imperative.

Operators can establish an effective response strategy by leveraging an accurate digital network model  of the grid. When field and office crews collaborate using shared views  that integrate data from various sources within the organisation, along with external streams like weather reports and critical response targets, they can work together more efficiently.

A notable example of this approach is demonstrated by Chubu Electric Power Grid in Japan. Given the region's susceptibility to natural disasters like typhoons and earthquakes, Chubu has developed a Disaster Recovery Information Sharing System (DRISS) that continuously monitors ongoing disasters and determines the optimal response strategy. By consolidating all operational data into a shared dashboard, Chubu can respond to disasters more effectively by dispatching the nearest teams and charting the most efficient routes to the incident. Field teams can also be equipped with the necessary tools and resources to respond efficiently to disasters.

Creating an efficient disaster response strategy minimises grid disruption, enhances reliability, and reduces safety risks to the public, while helping to meet regulatory obligations for service and uptime.

By establishing a shared view  of the physical grid assets, operators can effectively address both anticipated and unexpected events. This is crucial, as failure to respond swiftly and efficiently to disasters can have a significant financial and reputational impact on the business. By prioritising disaster response and preparedness, operators not only mitigate the risks associated with climate change but can also satisfy governmental expectations and increase customer satisfaction.

Taking advantage of funding opportunities

Proactively creating a grid management strategy can provide electric utility operators with more than just a first-mover advantage. It also creates a window of opportunity to build a resilient and future-proof network.

Taking decisive steps now allows operators to capitalise on existing funding opportunities. The UK government for example has committed £200 million in funding to help protect infrastructure from flooding. Additionally, across the pond in the US, the government has allocated $1 trillion towards infrastructure to mitigate the impact of climate change . Operators who break away from the industry's conservative tendencies will be in the prime position to benefit from this funding if they use it to gain a comprehensive understanding of their network, future-proof their infrastructure, and formulate effective disaster response strategies.

The level of investment observed within the sector is no surprise considering the current goal of achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 . Reaching this target will require new technologies and upgrades across the industry. Electric utility operators that acknowledge this reality and use government and private funding to build a resilient network will be the ones that ultimately benefit.