Climate change and the grid

By Dr LE Jones, Alstom Grid Inc


Published in: Electricity+Control, March 2015 (pages 46 – 47)

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A smarter, resilient grid could play a major role in adapting to climate change. It could do so in two fundamental ways −the physical approach and the cyber approach. The physical side involves the introduction of new technologies and materials into the grid infrastructure. For example, the application of nanotechnology can create new materials through the manipulation of their atomic structure with better physical properties, making them more robust and more efficient. Equipment made with graphene, a revolutionary and extremely hard material, can make it less vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. In this way, material science can make a significant contribution to grid resilience. So, too, can superconductors, which can not only push more electrons down the wires, but can be used to design better power electronics for HVDC. The grid’s adaptation to climate change may also be enhanced by wireless sensor networks, enabling the real-time collection of data in the grid as well as its surroundings.

Another key element in a smarter grid is the leveraging of the huge volumes of data collected – the cyber approach. The largest producers and consumers of power grid data are the hundreds of millions of sensors and controls embedded in smart devices installed in buildings, substations, generators, transformers and other equipment in the transmission and distribution networks. Then there are the expanding data from the increasing amount of variable renewable generation resources, demand response programmes, and distributed energy resources such as electric cars and energy storage. Grid operators today and more so in the future will have more access to external data sources such as weather agencies, etc. Extracting actionable information from this avalanche of data will help to identify and predict physical phenomena.


Take note

  • The potential impacts of a changing global climate on the power grid infrastructure are serious.
  • A smarter, resilient grid could play a major role in adapting to climate change.
  • It is predicted that global spending by utilities for smart grid IT systems will more than double in the next ten years.