Rising Severe Weather Threatens Grid Operations, Finds Accenture Research

May 20, 2020
90% utility industry executives believe an expected rise in severe weather poses an increased financial risk to their grid businesses.

According to a new research from Accenture, more than nine in 10 executives (95%) believe that climate change because of greenhouse gas emissions has been a contributing factor to increased extreme weather events that their electricity networks have experienced over the past 10 years. 90% believe an expected rise in severe weather poses an increased financial risk to their grid businesses.

The study — the sixth edition of Accenture's Digitally Enabled Grid research — is based on a survey of more than 200 electric utility executives in 28 countries on five continents. Other key findings include:

  • Almost three-quarters (73%) of survey respondents said that extreme weather events represent a significant challenge to network operations and safety.
  • 92% said they expect severe weather to increase in the next 10 years.
  • 88% said maintaining network resilience to extreme weather will result in significant increases in network prices for customers.
  • Only one-quarter (24%) believe that their businesses are very well prepared to deal with the impact of extreme weather, with one in 12 (8%) reporting being poorly prepared.

"With various parts of the world affected by droughts, wildfires, and flooding in addition to the United States hurricane season just around the corner, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and impacting the electricity grid," said Stephanie Jamison, a global industry senior managing director who leads Accenture's utilities business. "Greater system flexibility, delivered through digital and emerging technologies, will be critical to optimizing grid resilience in a cost-effective and timely manner. For example, active management of available network redundancy, distributed generation and energy storage can help maintain power delivery during severe weather events and speed service restoration after network failures."

More than nine in 10 respondents (95%) believe that building greater adaptability into the network — such as network reconfiguration, embedded storage, redundancy, and voltage management — over the next 10 years will be critical to increasing overall resilience. 93% see system flexibility as the most cost-effective approach to deliver long-term resilience.

In fact, nearly the same number of executives (93%) said that they are testing innovative solutions for grid resilience, including advanced protection systems, vehicle-to-grid technology, automated self-healing grids and drone inspections of damage factors.

However, enabling greater network flexibility remains a challenge. While 95% of executives believe that active management of distributed generation — including solar photovoltaics (PV), wind power, and energy storage — will be key to supporting network resilience in the long term, 84% said a lack of information on the location, size, specification, and operational state of smaller distributed energy resource (DER) installations is affecting resilience in the near term.

The study also found that a lack of industry-wide guidelines and standards is hampering action to increase utilities' resilience to the effects of severe weather on the grid. Utility executives said their top-ranked weather concerns for network resilience include very high winds (23%), flooding (17%), and winter ice and snowstorms (15%).

Amol Sabnis, a managing director who leads Accenture’s transmission and distribution (T&D) business, said, "In the long-term, utilities can promote greater resilience by linking the benefits of major investments to grid-modernization strategies to convince policymakers, customers, and other stakeholders of these benefits." But COVID-19 is increasing the urgency to address resilience, he added, noting, "It is raising new questions such as, in the event of massive catastrophe, how do we support the repair crews, feeding and sheltering them while meeting COVID-19 safety needs? What are the best technologies to protect employees' health on the job, such as temperature scanning, social distancing and air monitoring? The answers will require the industry fully teaming up, but with people and technology, we will get there."

Accenture’s annual Digitally Enabled Grid research evaluates the implications and opportunities of an increasingly digital grid. For the most-recent research, Accenture surveyed 206 C-suite and senior vice-president-level executives at electric utilities in 28 countries. The survey was conducted online from November 2019 through January 2020.

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