Our modern society is built upon an intricate web of electricity grid so that we have a constant supply of electricity whenever we need it. However, electricity production is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, generating approximately 36 percent of energy-related U.S. carbon emissions . Ironically, the industry is experiencing the consequences of its own actions as climate change threatens the resiliency of the electricity system in three major ways.
Threat 1: Extreme weather events cause large disruptions to the (old and outdated) electric system.
Extreme weather is the leading cause of power outages in the U.S. Between 2003 and 2012, an estimated 679 widespread power outages occurred due to severe weather . The cost associated with lost output and wages, spoiled inventory, and restarting industrial operations can be significant . Aging infrastructure only adds to the vulnerability. In addition, certain electric facilities are located near the ocean, exposing them to the risk of flooding and rising sea levels.
Threat 2: Availability of water will hamper the ability to run certain electric power generation facilities.
The U.S. electricity sector is highly dependent on water. Nearly all thermal power plants – coal, natural gas, nuclear, biomass, geothermal, and solar thermal plants – require water for condensing the steam that drives the turbines .
Threat 3: Extreme heat wave will increase peak demand, putting great strain on the entire system and demand planning.
Every year, we experience another record for the hottest year. On hot days, everyone turns on air conditioner at maximum capacity, which can put great stress on the grid system . In order to accommodate this demand, utilities will have to make expensive investments into peaking power plants that only get utilized about 10% of the time.
PG&E – Frontier in the old boys’ utility club
PG&E is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the U.S., delivering some of the nation’s cleanest energy to 15 million people in Northern and Central California. California is at the forefront of the power system transformation toward a cleaner, more diverse future with reduced carbon emissions. In its Climate Change Policy Framework, PG&E recognizes that the electric industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and commits to finding solutions and taking actions .
PG&E’s Plan of Action 1: Developing and investing in robust customer energy efficiency programs will reduce the overall demand for electricity.
Energy efficiency measures can be a win-win-win solution for adapting to and mitigating climate change while saving consumers money on their energy bills. Energy efficient homes and businesses require less electricity, deferring or eliminating the need to build new power plants and power lines. Less energy infrastructure means less equipment is vulnerable to damage from extreme weather events .
PG&E’s Plan of Action 2: PG&E commits to identifying and pursuing alternative ways to generate, procure and deliver vital energy resources, including renewable energy and clean, distributed technologies.
Recent development in clean energy technologies enables electricity generation to be smaller scaled and closer to the demand centers, which again reduces the need for large energy infrastructure investment. It also increases flexibility and resiliency since a failure in one rooftop solar panel will not have ripple effect on the entire grid. In addition, clean energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels do not require fuel and water to produce electricity. This greatly increases energy independence from geopolitical matters .
PG&E should continue to withhold its commitment to provide safe, reliable, affordable and clean energy to its customers. As a leader in the industry, it has the ability to foster more involvement from customers and advance low-carbon policies for California and the country.
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 Energy Information Administration, Energy-related CO2 emissions by source and sector for the United States, 2015, https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=75&t=11, accessed November 2016.
 Executive Office of the President, Economic benefits of increasing electric grid resilience to weather outages, August 2013.
 Michelle Davis, Steve Clemmer, Power Failure, April 2014, Union of Concerned Scientists, http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/Power-Failure-How-Climate-Change-Puts-Our-Electricity-at-Risk-and-What-We-Can-Do.pdf, accessed November 2016.
 PG&E, Climate Change Policy Framework, May 2006.
 Davis et al., Power Failure.