Governments and energy companies around the world must consider the level of preparedness of their national energy infrastructure in the face of climate change and persistent weather conditions, to prevent major damage in high-risk areas. The impact of natural disasters on energy infrastructure is well documented, and experts have pointed out the long-term dangers of poorly planned systems for years. In a 2017 review of the power grid after 16 earthquakes, 15 meteorological events, and 20 floods by the European Commission, the need to prepare for a major disaster became clear.
The study showed that Different disasters affect the power grid differently. For example, earthquakes “cause severe damage to heavy equipment (such as generators and transformers) and brittle materials (such as ceramics), and ground failure and melting can be dangerous to electrical infrastructure.” At the same time, floods are “often associated with power outages. Erosion from flood waters and landslides caused by floods undermine the foundations of transmission towers. Serious damage, and often explosions, can occur when electrical equipment comes into contact with water, while moisture and dirt ingress require time-consuming repairs for equipment that is covered in water.” And the space weather event “affects the transmission and generation of geomagnetically induced currents (GICs)… [which] they have the potential to influence the entire broadcast network.”
The authors suggested that a risk assessment be carried out on grid systems in different regions; Infrastructure is strengthened to withstand these types of disasters; disaster management plans; malfunctioning equipment is collected for repair; governments are prioritizing the rapid repair of energy infrastructure after a severe weather event. Despite these clear guidelines, many mitigation measures need to be taken in many parts of the world where we are seeing more extreme weather events.
As US pumps massive funding for its nuclear power section, there are concerns about what kind of weather event could affect America’s nuclear plants. The US is currently the largest producer of nuclear power in the world, with a production of 771,638 GWh of nuclear power by 2021. But most of America’s nuclear power infrastructure is outdated, with about 92 commercial reactors nationwide having been in operation for 40 years or more. Most people are like that concerns the future of nuclear power plants over extreme weather, especially after witnessing the impact of the natural disaster at Japan’s Fukushima power plant in 2011.
Places like south Florida, which has been hit by several hurricanes in recent years, is a prime example of this concern. Moreover, as climate change increases, the scale and magnitude of natural disasters are likely to increase. Despite the high cost of building a nuclear power plant, to avoid a nuclear disaster, mitigation plans must be made and the US nuclear infrastructure will need to be updated to withstand extreme weather in the coming years.
A recent study examined how a double-digit weather event could affect power infrastructure. Researchers at Ohio State University are using machine learning models to predict how transmission lines might be affected when natural disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, occur in quick succession. One of the main results was that “early damage has a major impact on the vulnerability and reliability of this network if it is not repaired before the second accident occurs.” In addition, the sequence of disasters can have a significant impact on the level of visible damage. Abdollah Shafieezadeh, co-author of this research, explained: “Our work aims to answer that it is possible to design and manage programs in a way that can reduce their initial damage but make them recover quickly.”
Studies such as these are important in informing greater disaster preparedness and power infrastructure policies as we continue to see the dire consequences of poor preparedness, such as in the case of Puerto Rico. Five years after Hurricane Maria, the country’s grid system is still expensive and ineffective. Luma Energy, a joint venture between Houston-based Quanta Services and ATCO of Calgary, took control of Puerto Rico’s power grid in 2021. However, citizens quickly protested the takeover as customers found “long turnaround times, power outages and poor customer service.”
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To date, infrastructure improvements are still needed, with frequent power outages. Tom Sanzillo from the Center for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis he said“Since [Hurricane] Maria, they basically cut the wires, fixed some of the transmission stations, and the basic production process is still the same… That means there is no place, and nothing is basically invested in the grid.” This led Puerto Ricans to protest Luna’s role in the electricity supply, with hundreds of residents marching to Governor Pedro Pierluisi in Old San Juan, They want Luma’s contract to be cancelledjust two months before the recent Cyclone Fiona, nothing.
And it’s not just Puerto Rico that is dealing with the effects of the bad weather, residents of Canada are complaining of power outages about a month after Fiona hit the Atlantic region. Experts emphasize the need significant investment and modernizing infrastructure to make it more resilient to climate change. As climate change brings extreme weather conditions around the world, governments should heed advice from experts. Governments and energy firms should pump money into electricity infrastructure in high-risk areas to prevent greater destruction than has already been seen, and to reduce the negative effects of spending long periods without access to electricity.
By Felicity Bradstock of Oilprice.com
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