A Blueprint for a More Resilient Grid
While our electric power system is generally regarded as a major tool for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, it is, itself, vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. More frequent and more extreme heat, drought, and storms are putting serious strains on our electric system, and we must find ways to ensure that we have a resilient, reliable grid without waiting for disaster to force the issue upon us.
Melissa Higbee (MCP ’13) looked closely at the ways in which American electric utilities are preparing for climate change by conducting a survey of 26 utilities and developing in-depth case studies of three. She finds that some utilities are indeed preparing by looping climate change projections into their existing risk management and capital planning efforts. The main way that utilities have acted so far is by reinforcing their transmission and distribution systems, for example by adopting “smart grid” technologies or by moving important power lines underground.
But Melissa also notices the uneven pace of progress. The preparations that utilities make for climate change depend on their business models and the mood of their state and local regulators. She encourages regulators to require adaptation planning on the part of utilities and notes the useful role that governments can play by providing accurate and consistent forecasts of expected climate impacts. She also notes that, in the face of uncertain climate conditions, utilities would be wise to plan for a range of possible outcomes by incorporating scenario planning methods into their adaptation efforts. Read more about Melissa’s findings and recommendations in her thesis, here.