The growing risk to the U.S. electricity grid

Monday, January 27th, 2020

A secure and resilient electric grid is vital to national security, a strong economy, and critical services like those provided by water utilities and hospitals. As the demand for power continues to grow, the aging U.S. grid is being stretched to capacity. Moreover, supply risk can result from climate-induced shifts in electricity use and/or damaged infrastructure due to extreme weather events and climate change. A new analysis that focuses on the risks associated with climate-induced demand shifts finds that the power industry is dramatically underestimating how climate change could affect the medium- and long-term demand for electricity in the U.S.

The study, conducted by Sayanti Mukherjee (PhD 2017, Civil Engineering; now an assistant professor at University of New York Buffalo) and professor Roshanak Nateghi (Industrial Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering) describes the limitations of prediction models currently used by electricity providers and regulators for energy forecasting, and presents a new model—a model that uses more accurate climate variables and climate change data to better predict future electricity demands in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. The researchers find that dew point temperature (the temperature at which air is saturated with water vapor) is the key predictor of climate-induced demand shifts for all the three sectors, with daily high temperature a second key variable for residential and commercial sectors, and daily minimum temperatures a second key variable for the industrial sector. 

When the new model is used to predict future energy demands across the state of Ohio, the residential sector is most directly affected by climate variability and change. Even a moderate rise in dew point temperature could increase electricity demand up to 20% by the 2030s—the prediction jumps to 40% with a severe rise. By comparison, the Public Utility Commission of Ohio, which does not consider climate change in its models, predicts residential demand increases of less than 4%. The commercial sector is similarly affected by variations in dew point temperature, and demand could increase to 14%. The industrial sector is less affected.  While the study was limited to Ohio, the model can be applied to evaluate the risks of climate change to electricity infrastructure in other states.

Mukherjee, S. and R. Nateghi (2019). A Data‐Driven Approach to Assessing Supply Inadequacy Risks Due to Climate‐Induced Shifts in Electricity Demand. Risk Analysis, 39, 3.




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