Grid Reliability in a Changing Climate
King, Jensen W.
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As the United States continues to experience disastrous weather-related events—hurricanes, tropical storms, deep freezes, heat waves, and wildfires—evaluating the resilience of critical infrastructure systems becomes increasingly important. Today’s changing climate is making the case for resiliency efforts across communities and grid reliability becomes especially important for communities dependent on our century-old power grid. The interconnected capability of the U.S. power grid is evolving rapidly and the energy landscape is covering new terrain. The emergence of advanced technologies, climate policies, and restructured energy markets represent the vast opportunity for developing a more reliable grid. This study looks at resiliency through the lense of preventative and recovery (reactive) efforts for enhancing grid reliability during times of severe weather events. Ideally, these efforts eliminate undue costs resulting from infrastructure damage and power outages, among other consequences. We explicitly consider alternatives—namely distributed energy resources (DERs)—to conventional energy generation and capacity resources to support the grid during demand constraints. Enhanced grid services unique to DERs are also highlighted. We also advocate for permanent hardening measures, such as burying distribution lines and waterproofing substations, that protect the grid against repeat failures from recurring events. Grid hardening and DERs are both likely to play a major role in stabilizing the grid and maintaining electric service in the years to come. Addressing climate change risks must account for both the capital costs to implement resilience measures and the benefits of grid reliability during and after weather-related events. Economic analyses presented in the case studies consider “damage cost avoidance” where both direct and indirect costs of damage are taken into account. We believe this approach aids in screening resiliency measures for cost-effectiveness when applied to future (hypothetical) events. This study introduces a different approach in assessing grid reliability and how we might establish a more resilient grid by thinking outside the “utility toolbox”. Our intent is not to provide an exhaustive list of the potential resiliency measures and recovery efforts that utilities could consider, nor do we come close to capturing all of the benefits to the grid’s many stakeholders. This study provides just a glimpse of what’s possible today. We hope that the possibilities are endless.