Protect the Electric Grid from Increasingly Severe Weather Due to Climate Change, Says Joint White House and Department of Energy Report Print E-mail
Using Technology to Bring Climate Change Adaptation Research to the Great Lakes

Friday, August 30, 2013

Last June, a summer storm toppled trees and power lines, leaving millions on the East Coast without power for days. Several months later, Superstorm Sandy hit, triggering blackouts for millions of homes and businesses.The U.S. electric grid is highly vulnerable to severe weather – which is becoming more common due to climate change—and these events take a heavy economic toll on our nation.

A new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers and the Energy Department evaluates the economic cost of power outages and calls for increased cross-sector investment to make the electric grid more resilient in the face of increasingly severe weather events due to climate change.

According to the report, called Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages, the average annual cost of power outages caused by severe weather is estimated to be between $18 billion and $33 billion per year. In a year with record-breaking storms, the cost can be much higher. For example, weather-related outages cost the economy between $40 billion and $75 billion in 2008, the year of Hurricane Ike.

The analysis of the power grid, conducted in response to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, was laid out in June to mitigate climate change and better prepare our nation for its consequences.

"The aging nature of the grid — much of which was constructed over a period of more than 100 years — has made Americans more susceptible to outages caused by severe weather," the report said.

The report urges increased investment in the electric grid and identifies strategies for modernizing the grid to better prevent power outages. Recommended strategies include:

  • Managing risk by conduct exercises to identify and mitigate the potential impacts of hazards to the grid
  • Working with utilities to strengthen infrastructure against wind and flood damage, which could involve upgrading wooden poles to concrete, steel, or a composite material, and installing support wires and other structural supports
  • Improving power flow capacity and providing greater control over energy flows
  • Supporting implementation of 21st century technologies that can alert utilities when
  • consumers experience a power outage or there is a system disruption
  • Automatically rerouting power to avoid further outages
  • Installing sensors to reveal possibilities for failures

Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages

Weather influenced by human activity has already hit the United States faster than anticipated, threatening infrastructure, water supplies, agriculture and coastlines, according to the draft Third National Climate Assessment.

Further, power outages are expected to become more frequent as climate change increases the occurrence and intensity of hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and other extreme weather events.

  • Read the full Department of Energy report here.
  • Read the White House blog about the new report here.
  • Check out what the draft National Climate Assessment says about the impact of climate change on energy supply and use here.

U.S. 2012 Billion Dollar Weather and Climate Diasters

Image Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Article written by Tara Failey, a current MPH student in Environmental Health Science and Policy at The George Washington University.