Con Edison is enhancing how it plans and designs its energy delivery systems to make New York City and Westchester County more resilient against the intensifying effects of climate change.
In a recently issued report, the company details how it will incorporate climate change into its planning, design, operations, and emergency response. The company has taken a more proactive and forward-looking approach to climate resilience in recent years, building on its energy industry leadership on the issue.
Climate change affects nearly every aspect of Con Edison's operations. It is accelerating the need to fortify key infrastructure, putting additional heat stress on field workers, and shifting energy consumption patterns. The company's announced pathways prepare for the upper end of potential climate change, beyond the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
Con Edison is already using its climate change projections for decision-making in areas such as power supply forecasting and will integrate climate considerations into other processes beginning in 2021. In addition, the company will form a new executive-level committee focused on climate risk and resilience.
The utility's plans to improve resilience include:
- Additional climate science studies
- Refinement of tools, methods, and approaches in engineering and planning
- Building new assets taking climate change into consideration
- Updating programs for existing assets for climate change impacts
From 2017, Con Edison reviewed climate change vulnerabilities across the electric, gas, and steam systems, culminating in a landmark study released in 2019. The study established a foundational understanding of the risks facing Con Edison systems. The Climate Change Implementation Plan, filed recently with the New York State Department of Public Service, represents the next step in the journey toward climate resilience. It is an attempt to systematically incorporate climate change into planning, design, operations, and emergency response practices.
The plan reflects not only the experience of experts across Con Edison but also the feedback, input, and experience of more than 50 stakeholders, including New York State Department of Public Service staff, municipal representatives, and environmental advocacy organizations.
Last year, the utility established a climate change governance structure to continue and enhance the incorporation of climate change into existing processes and practices.
"The work by Con Edison to anticipate and prepare for extreme events caused or worsened by climate change advances the global state of the art," said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. "It represents the innovative application of advanced climate science to the highly technical details of utility system management. It will benefit not only Con Edison's customers but also utility companies around the world that are looking for models on how to cope with climate change."
Con Edison, which built the world's first underground network in 1882 to increase safety and resilience to extreme weather, continues to learn from storm events, such as Riley and Quinn in 2018, and Isaias in 2020, and invest in storm hardening.
The number of days when the average 24-hour temperature in Central Park is higher than 86°F could reach 21 per year by 2050 and 45 by 2080, compared to three such days historically. Hotter temperatures will mean sharper spikes in summer energy consumption. That summer peak could be up to 900 MW higher by 2050, according to Con Edison's projections.
At the same time, extreme storms are becoming more frequent. Con Edison's updated flood-design standard requires that new facilities built for 80 years of operation be able to accommodate an additional 3 ft of sea level rise — reflecting what is likely to be a much-altered planet by the end of the century.
While staying ahead of climate change will require additional investments, proactive efforts will bring immediate benefits by improving the "blue-sky" performance of New York's energy grid and paving the way for more renewable energy.
As part of its Clean Energy Commitment, Con Edison has pledged to offer its customers the chance to buy 100% clean electricity by 2040, accelerate the move toward electric vehicles (EVs), and invest even more aggressively in energy efficiency. The company also recently announced a landmark battery storage development in New York City.
While the Climate Change Implementation Plan provides a strong foundation for action, Con Edison will evolve its adaptation efforts over time based on new science and its customers' needs. It will review its climate projections annually and update them at least every five years. The company will provide regular public reporting on its progress through its annual Sustainability Report and other disclosures.
Con Edison supports New York's ambitious climate and clean energy goals and will do its part to help the state build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jainey Bavishi, director of the mayor's office of resiliency, said: "Con Edison's efforts to harden its infrastructure and prepare for more severe extreme weather will strengthen resilience citywide while increasing the reliability of the electric grid. We look forward to continuing to partner closely with them and our other local utilities to address climate vulnerabilities and fortify the critical infrastructure that all New Yorkers depend on."
Elizabeth B. Stein, lead counsel, energy transition strategy at Environmental Defense Fund, said: "Con Edison's work to build climate risk into its long-term planning puts it at the forefront of utilities preparing to meet the demands of electrification. This is good news for New Yorkers who are poised to rely more and more on the electric grid as a source of clean energy — including the growing population of EV drivers."