Climate-proofing power infrastructure

Extreme weather easily disrupts electricity infrastructures as recent failures in India and the US have shown. A model by PhD candidate Lynn Andrew Bollinger (TPM) identifies ways to make the Dutch power system less vulnerable to climate change.

Flood-protecting electric substations plus managing power demand reduce the power system’s vulnerability to floods and heats waves, found Bollinger, who is originally from the US, as he ran a series of simulations of extreme weather conditions on the Dutch electricity infrastructure.

Climate change manifests itself in more frequent and more extreme heatwaves, windstorms and rainfalls which can easily disrupt power supply in large regions. Bollinger mentions the power cut in northern India in 2012 that was a result of a late monsoon. And the black-out in the northwestern US as a consequence of the high wind speeds and excessive flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy later that year.

The Dutch research program Knowledge for Climate focuses on climate change adaptation. It forms the context of Bollinger’s work within the energy & industry group of the faculty Technology, Policy and Management.

Bollinger, who did his master’s in Industrial Ecology in Delft and Leiden with honours, identifies extreme rainfall, heat waves and high wind speeds as the most tangible consequences of climate change in the Netherlands. These may influence the power infrastructure in a number of ways. Flooding may force shutdown of power plants or substations located in flood prone areas. Heatwaves can result in shortage of cooling water for power plants as well as increase the demand for cooling. Violent storms may damage overhead power lines and force shutdown of wind parks thus cutting down production.

Bollinger also performed a series of future-based simulations to explore the climate sensitivity of different future energy scenarios. These show that a more sustainable power production also has a better climate resistance. “Such a path is characterized by low levels in demand and high levels of growth in the implementation and utilization of small-scale renewables-based technology,” he explained on the best direction for the development.

An infrastructure that relies more on local generation is less dependent on vulnerable power transmission lines and demonstrates a high degree of resilience to both flood and heatwave events, said Bollinger. And if it does fail, distributed infrastructures degrade more gracefully than centralized ones, he adde in his propositions. (JW)

• Lynn Andrew Bollinger, Fostering Climate Resilient Electricity Infrastructures, January 7 2015, PhD supervisor: Prof. Margot Weijnen (TPM).

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