Rich Sorkin, CEO of Jupiter Intelligence
As the reality of climate change begins to soak in, enterprises, organizations and governments around the globe are trying to get a handle on the economic and social implications of rising temperatures and sea levels. One area most immediately threatened by climate change—and one that hasn’t received nearly enough public attention—is the infrastructure and operations of major public utilities.
Con Edison took a great step forward this past December by completing an unprecedented assessment of the long-term climate risk and resilience of its present-day infrastructure, including design specifications and procedures. The result should serve as a model for utilities worldwide that are tasked with providing the essential services—uninterrupted—that allow society to function.
The Con Edison report, developed in collaboration with ICF and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, focused on three primary goals:
- Developing a shared understanding of the latest in climate science and projected extreme weather for Con Edison’s service area.
- Assessing the potential impact of climate change on operations, planning and physical assets.
- Reviewing measures, along with costs and benefits, that can help improve Con Edison’s resilience to climate change.
Jupiter Intelligence was selected to contribute data and analytics to Con Edison’s landmark report, including projections of extreme temperatures and their effects in urban environments. Ultimately, the report painted a detailed picture—including magnitude and timing—of the new challenges that Con Edison will face throughout the 21st century. Climate effects that are expected to have outsized impacts on the utility in the coming decades include:
Temperature. By 2050, Con Edison could experience up to 23 days per year in which maximum temperatures exceed 95°F, compared to four days per year historically. Jupiter’s contribution to the report highlighted a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect (UHI). Because of geographic variations like pavement coverage and the distribution of green space, different neighborhoods across Con Edison’s service area experience significantly different heat effects. These spatial differences represent important factors that should guide long-term investment planning in heat-resistant infrastructure and system components. Con Edison can now undertake long-term capital planning with a much greater understanding of these risks.
Humidity. Looking forward, temperature variable thresholds (which are used by Con Edison to help forecast system load and consider the persistence of heat and humidity over several days) that currently occur only once per year are expected to occur between four and 19 times per year by 2050, and between five and 52 times per year by 2080. This will place significant strain on electrical demand and transmission load.
Precipitation. Climate change is expected to drive heavier precipitation of all types (rain, snow, ice) in Con Edison’s service area. For example, the heaviest five-day precipitation in Central Park could increase by 17 percent by 2050.
Sea-Level Rise. Sea levels, likely to rise between 0.62 and 1.94 feet by 2050, will increase both the frequency and height of future floods. By the end of the century, today’s once-per-year-probability flood in New York City could occur at every high tide. Rising sea levels and increased flooding pose direct and immediate risks to Con Edison’s critical electrical generation and transmission equipment, and should be planned for accordingly.
Extreme Events. While difficult to predict, evidence suggests that extreme weather events like prolonged heat waves and Category 4 and higher hurricanes will increase in frequency and intensity in the coming decades.
Each of the above shifts has important implications for the future sustainability of New York City’s existing infrastructure, and Con Edison is not standing idle. This year, the organization will begin developing an implementation plan based on its report findings that details priority actions needed in the next five, 10 and 20 years.
In beginning this vital planning now, Con Edison is improving its chances of success in adapting to a very different future. Con Edison has set a new standard for this type of analysis, and other utilities should take note when considering their own infrastructure risk and resilience planning. The effects of climate change will be significant. While any one organization might not be able to address the impacts of climate change on its own, they can plan for resilience and continued reliability for the people they serve.
—Rich Sorkin is CEO of Jupiter Intelligence, a team of global experts in business growth, sensor development, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, climate, weather and hydro science, data science, and risk planning and management.