Hurricane season and the conversation we need to have
This article is adapted from GreenBiz's newsletter, Energy Weekly. Subscribe here.
There’s nothing like hurricane season to remind us of the fragility of the electric grid.
As Dorian approaches the East Coast of the United States, electric utilities say they’re ready after spending the last week preparing. Meteorologists are saying they’ve never seen anything like Dorian, but it isn’t a one-off — the hurricane is part of a string of increasingly frequent powerful storms over the last few years, including hurricanes Maria, Irma, Matthew and Florence.
Of course, hurricanes aren’t the only natural disaster potentially short-circuiting the grid. We’re at peak global fire season, with blazes everywhere from the Amazon to Alaska to Sub-Saharan Africa. In the western United States, "wildfire season" has replaced "Indian summers." In the Midwest, floods and tornadoes are increasingly affecting communities and ravaging livelihoods.
If we want to survive and thrive through these increasingly common events, we need an energy system that can withstand them.
Future-proofing the grid is no small task
The electric grid is often called the largest machine in the world. In the United States alone, it includes thousands of power generation plants, 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 5.5 million miles of local distribution lines. And this century-old machine with no central authority has kludgy add-ons, designed to meet customers' real-time demands and ever-changing needs.
Now, climate change is putting pressure on the electric grid that tape and bubblegum can’t fix.
First, extreme weather resulting from the warming climate is revealing the weak points and brittleness of the grid. Second, state and local policies are mandating 100 percent clean energy goals — an imperative to reaching the deep decarbonization needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change. And a great energy transition simply can’t happen without a great distribution and transmission transition.
It’s time to have a conversation about grid resilience
While the crisis of extreme weather started this conversation, the urgency of the moment cracks open the opportunity to think about the next generation of the electricity grid. One that is more resilient, flexible, clean and affordable. It’s a crisitunity, if you will.
That is why I am delighted that GreenBiz is collaborating with the state of California on the Grid Resilience Summit, a half-day working session at VERGE 19 that will focus on what we want the grid of tomorrow to look like. It will bring together private-sector leaders, state and local public officials, policymakers, utility executives and service providers to talk about scalable solutions to meet climate, energy and grid resilience goals in California and beyond.
"The next few years will define the future of California’s electricity grid," Kate Gordon, director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, said of the summit in a statement. "The state’s ambitious clean-energy goals coupled with the increasing severity and frequency of wildfires makes now the perfect moment to evaluate and future-proof our energy infrastructure."
With these extremes devastating homes, communities and economies, it’s easy to focus on the immediate needs to get the lights back on. But if we look only as far as our headlights shine, we’re missing the opportunity to determine what’s beyond those headlights — and where we want to go.
If you want to be part of the conversation at the summit, request an invitation here.