Science News

Study highlights electric grids’ vulnerabilities to extreme weather

| License Photo

Climate change is likely to expose electric grids to new threats. Researchers say electrical engineers and those who manage America’s electrical grid need prepare for emerging vulnerabilities.

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed new analysis strategies for identifying the parts of the electric grid that are most vulnerable to extreme weather.

“For the first time, we were able to apply data at a high enough resolution to be relevant,” Melissa Allen, a researcher at ORNL, said in a news release.

As prolonged heat waves and drought become the norm in large portions of the United States, local electric grids are likely to become increasingly strained. New algorithms developed by Allen and her colleagues promise to identify neighborhood substations where demand is most likely to increase.

“These results can affect how future service areas are defined and where new substation capacity within the national grid may need to be located,” Allen said.

The new study, published in the journal Nature Energy, focuses on electric grids throughout the South, but scientists say their algorithms could be used to help utilities managers in other parts of the country prepare for a warmer future and more volatile climate.

Changing demand is likely to require more than just a bulking up existing infrastructure. Grids will need to be expanded in anticipation of communities displaced by hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

Local planning officials and utility companies can use the new algorithms to identify where electric grids need to be built in anticipation of populations on the move.