Major weather events and aging grid infrastructure have led many to call for a resilient grid that can stand up to the elements. However, prioritizing resilience may be the wrong approach — instead, grid officials should consider how sustainability could future-proof the grid and protect it from future crises.
Climate change and extreme weather are becoming bigger threats to the grid. Green power, which can help us fight climate change, may be even more important than grid resilience in protecting the grid from disasters.
Why Grid Resilience May Not Be Enough
In the future, the grid will face serious challenges. Extreme winter temperatures, like those seen in Texas in early 2021, hurricanes, and wildfires all pose threats to grid infrastructure. These events are already costing grid operators millions of dollars and threatening power distribution systems around the world. Climate researchers believe these disasters are likely to get worse as the planet warms.
According to Joao Teixeira, co-director of the Center for Climate Sciences at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “it’s a relatively well-accepted fact that as global temperatures increase, extreme precipitation will very likely increase as well.”
Rising temperatures could contribute to more extreme disasters in a number of ways, causing “supercharged” Atlantic hurricanes, driving down winter temperatures in the South, and drying out forests during the summer, increasing the likelihood of severe wildfires.
There’s also evidence that we’re on the verge of major shifts . . . The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, for example, is on the verge of collapse . . . could raise sea levels by as much as 10 feet over several decades, putting coastal grid infrastructure and communities at risk.
Upgrades that help guarantee a more resilient grid would be built for the disasters we face right now. As unprecedented weather events become more common, however, that level of resilience may not be enough. For communities across the U.S., the consequences could be catastrophic.
Long-term power outages due to severe weather are becoming more common. The 2021 Texas freeze left more than 10 million people without power at its peak, some for days. Many modern emergency preparedness guides have begun to recommend that homeowners install standby generators that can provide power when the grid is down.
A greener grid could help prevent these events from happening in the first place — or potentially ensure extreme weather events like the Texas freeze or California wildfires won’t become significantly more serious over the next few decades.
Practical Strategies for Building a Greener Grid
Grid officials and power companies can take action now to make the grid more sustainable — potentially helping to slow climate change and mitigate the impact of severe weather events.
Investing in green power sources will likely be one of the best ways to prepare the grid for climate sustainability and resilience. Hydropower, solar power, and wind can all help reduce the carbon cost of operating the grid, helping to reduce the risk that weather events become more severe in the future.
Additionally, renewable energy sources can be replenished indefinitely and are likely to become cheaper to produce as technology improves — meaning grid operators won’t have to worry as much about diminishing fossil fuel reserves or rising energy prices.
Individuals can also take action to make the grid a little bit greener. Sustainable home upgrades like green building materials and solar power systems can significantly reduce an individual homeowner’s dependence on the grid while also shrinking their personal carbon footprint.
The Future of the Grid Is Green
Climate scientists agree that climate change is probably making severe weather events more likely, more extreme, and more unpredictable. Grid resilience may not be enough to fortify energy infrastructure against these increasingly powerful weather events.
By investing in green energy technology and grid infrastructure, we can help reduce the risk that these extreme weather events become worse.
About the author: Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co