ENERGY SECURITYPlanning Climate-Smart Power Systems

Published 11 August 2022

Unprecedented heat waves, storms, and wildfires are pushing electrical grids in the United States to their limits. An energy scientist and a climate scientist discuss how utilities can plan for a resilient electrical grid in the face of an uncertain climate future.

Unprecedented heat waves, storms, and wildfires are pushing electrical grids in the United States to their limits. To work towards a safe and reliable power system in the coming years, utilities will need to factor the potential effects of climate change and extreme climate change-driven events into their plans for power distribution, generation capacity and back-up energy storage, and infrastructure repair and replacement.

But how do you plan for the future given the wide range of plausible ways that climate change can impact “the new normal” and extreme weather events?

Liyang Wang and Andrew Jones, two scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory(Berkeley Lab), are part of a team working to provide practical tools and guidance for grid planners. In this Q&A, Wang and Jones share findings of a review study that identifies how best practices in planning for uncertainty can be applied in the electricity sector, and discuss an upcoming project supported by the California Energy Commission that will evaluate alternative grid resilience strategies under a comprehensive range of climate futures.

Their study is part of the ongoing Department of Energy-funded HyperFACETS project that is developing new ways of evaluating and producing climate information in close collaboration with stakeholders.

Liyang Wang is a senior research associate in the Building Technology & Urban Systems Division of Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies Area.

Andrew Jones is a staff scientist in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Area. Both are affiliated with the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley.

Q. Is climate change being factored into grid planning at all, as of now?
: You don’t have to look very far into the recent past to find dramatic examples of how extreme weather events can stress electricity grids. These include recent wildfires, extreme heat waves that lead to high air-conditioning demands, plus direct risks to infrastructure from storms and flooding. Fire is a particularly tricky issue, both in terms of grid-driven ignitions and damages to the grid itself. So, there’s certainly a lot of interest in understanding how climate change is influencing these events and their associated risks. However, the technical barriers to actually using climate science in an effective way are pretty significant.