Climate and extreme weather are increasingly impacting energy systems around the world. Whether it is prolonged, extreme cold in Texas, wildfires in California, high winds in the Midwest, or the recent prediction for an above-normal 2022 hurricane season, it is clear extreme weather events are testing the resilience of the North American grid.
Changes in the frequency and intensity of weather events can challenge the energy system beyond its original design, potentially damaging equipment and impacting the ability to deliver electricity to customers. In addition, as the grid transforms to a renewable future, extreme weather and environmental conditions, such as cloud cover, smoke, smog, and too little or too much wind, will impact the availability of resources whose fuel sources are directly impacted. Similarly, the impacts of extreme weather on interdependent systems, such as gas and electric, will affect the availability of those resources due to fuel supply issues.
Recently, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), a not-for-profit organization charged with improving the reliability, resilience, and security of the grid, released its 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment. The report warned that several parts of North America, primarily in the Southwest, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest, are at elevated or high risk of energy shortfalls this summer in part due to above-normal temperatures, drought conditions, and potential wildfires.
Most decarbonization pathway models project the electric sector as key to reducing emissions in other sectors. As society’s dependence on electricity grows, and we continue electrifying transportation, buildings, and other sectors to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, it will be imperative that we plan and design the power system to handle the additional demand, while simultaneously adapting to more frequent extreme weather events.
Proactive investment, rather than reactive responses following crisis conditions, can result in lower overall costs in the long term, and ensure the societal benefits from a highly reliable, resilient, and secure bulk power system. While many energy companies are working to factor these risks into their system planning, even more benefit can be derived through a consistent and collaboratively informed approach to identify infrastructure investments needed to better withstand and recover from extreme weather events.
Our two organizations, NERC and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), were separately formed in the aftermath of the 1965 blackout in New York City, focused on enabling reliable, resilient, and affordable electricity. Given the electric sector’s projected role in decarbonizing other sectors, the reliability and resilience of the grid is foundational to achieving the economy-wide emissions reductions needed to meet U.S. climate goals. Electricity resilience is not a barrier to achieving decarbonization, it’s a prerequisite. Therefore, it’s important for the power sector to coalesce around a consistent framework to inform future infrastructure investment and deployment.
EPRI recently launched a new collaborative effort, Climate READi (REsilience and ADaptation initiative): Power. This effort will enable global energy companies, climate scientists, regulators, and other stakeholders, including NERC, to proactively analyze and apply climate data, empowering stakeholders to enhance planning, design, and operation of resilient energy systems. Climate READi will provide a comprehensive, integrated approach to physical climate risk assessment and investment prioritization.
The initiative already includes nearly 20 energy companies and will also engage with regulators, national labs, universities, insurers and the financial community, and climate scientists, among others. Over the next three years, Climate READi will focus on three simultaneous work streams: application of physical climate data and guidance; energy system and asset vulnerability assessments; and resilience and adaptation planning and prioritization. The resulting framework will account for regional, regulatory, and geographical differences, so stakeholders can use this framework according to the unique conditions in which their system assets operate.
We believe collaboration is key to enable improved reliability and resilience of the North American grid. In July 2021, NERC and EPRI signed a memorandum of understanding leveraging our collective knowledge to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to power sector challenges more efficiently and effectively.
Climate and weather extremes present a potentially significant and escalating risk because of their broad and compounding effects on power generation, transmission systems, distribution networks, and customer use. Strengthening grid resilience against potentially chronic, long-term, widespread, and acute climate and weather impacts, both now and in the future, will require unprecedented collaboration across energy system stakeholders. Taking these proactive efforts now can help ensure resilient energy for customers in a decarbonized future. To learn more, visit: www.epri.com/READi.
—Daniel Brooks is vice president of Integrated Grid and Energy Systems at EPRI. He joined EPRI in 2004 and has held a number of positions, including manager of the renewables’ integration research and power studies teams, and senior program manager of the Grid Operations and Planning research area. Mark G. Lauby is senior vice president and chief engineer at NERC. Lauby joined NERC in January 2007 and has held a number of positions, including vice president and director of Standards, and vice president and director of Reliability Assessments and Performance Analysis. To learn more, visit: www.NERC.com.