The power grid gets climate proof
The short-term $1 billion resiliency plan, is the first step in what is expected to be the USA’s most extensive effort to climate-proof an electric grid. The Con Edison (power supplier) plan involves:
- floodwalls around substations and transformers to help prevent storm water from swallowing and frying the equipment
- strengthen poles to withstand thrashing winds, move many high-voltage power lines underground
- install back-up fuel supply systems to prevent soaring demand during heat waves from crashing the grid
This set of actions has been taken after Superstorm Sandy‘s 9.8-foot storm surge drowned Lower Manhattan, other neighborhoods and the FDR Drive freeway. The city was dark after key substations were submerged, and after fallen trees and strong winds crippled three-fourths of overhead power lines and poles.
The PSC indicated that all the utilities it regulates—including more than 100 electric, gas, steam, water and telecommunications providers—should be required to follow Con Edison’s lead.
The application proposed a $2.4 billion spending increase through 2016, of which $1 billion would go toward making the grid more resilient to future storms and flooding.
Heat could cause further damage to the grid in the future, causing exploding transformers, damaged circuits and rolling blackouts as homeowners and businesses crank up their air conditioners. By the 2050s, heat waves are projected to last longer and occur more often. The number of days with temperatures above 90-degrees Fahrenheit is expected to triple, to between 29 to 45 days.
“Heat is the most deadly type of weather event in the US,” Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute . “It’s also precisely when the power grid is vulnerable to failures due to high demand.”
Horton argued that adapting the utility grid to the impacts of climate change will cost far less than all the damages and disruptions that could plague a vulnerable system.
“We can either pay now, or pay far more later,”
An even better approach
The utility and Columbia launched a collaboration to expand the scope of the utility’s resiliency proposal, which now covers 4 categories:
- strengthening infrastructure to withstand future storms and flooding
- making the natural gas system more resilient and preventing gas leaks
- developing a new risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis to reflect climate threats
- studying “alternative resiliency” strategies to keep the grid running even in extreme weather
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