The ICLSG centres around knowledge-sharing and collaboration. For this reason, one of the top priorities is to make time for the partners to get together and discuss experiences, research and learnings. The 30th of May marked the partnership’s first monthly meeting in which all partners from across the world met virtually to discuss the theme of resilience and hear from the ICLSG Senior Researcher, Dr Katherine Collett, on her recent working paper, Resilience of a Smart, Low-Carbon Power System. The report explores the resilience of electricity distribution networks to hazards under a changing climate.

Dr Collett explored the increasing hazards that our electricity system needs to be resilient to:

  • Storms and floods: Tropical cyclones considered “very intense” are set to increase by 13% under 2°C warming scenarios. Overhead cables are vulnerable to storms due to falling trees and flying debris. And floods pose a threat to underground cables, substations and transformers.
  • Wildfires: The number of wildfires in some areas around the world are forecast to increase 50% by the end of the century. Most of our electricity system infrastructure is vulnerable to wildfires.
  • Earthquakes: The number of “significant earthquakes” has increased over the last 100 year. Although there are limited findings on if this trend will continue, earthquakes will remain a hazard to our electricity systems. This is due to both the initial shocks and the knock-on disasters such as tsunamis. Earthquakes particularly threaten substation, specifically transformers and circuit breakers. 
  • Sea level rise: The IPCC reports that the sea-level is at risk of increasing by 0.5m to 1m by 2100. Under worse circumstances, this could be as high as 1.75 meters. Sea-level rise will threaten substations, transformers and underground cables.
  • Increased average temperatures: The planet is warming due to climate change but not all regions will experience the same effects. In a scenario where we can limit this warming to an average of 2 C, all land-regions are set to experience an increased average temperature of 0.5 to 3.5 C. This increase in temperature can alter consumer consumption and increase demand ultimately putting pressure on the network. Additionally, network components such as transformers, cables, and busbars, are all affected by temperature which may impact their capacity and life-span.
  • Cyber attacks: Increased digitisation of our electricity networks also increases our vulnerability to cyber attacks. This can involve things like eavesdropping, denial of service, bad data injection, data packet modification.

Dr Collett’s research found that there are two important benefits to transitioning to a smart, low-carbon electricity system. Firstly, decarbonisation of the electricity system tackles the cause of climate change by reducing emissions and secondly, it offers opportunities for evolving smart operational strategies to boost resilience and combat the challenges listed above. Promising strategies include:

  • ‘Islanding’ or the use of microgrids which enables the network to continue to supply electricity by just excluding the faulty area.
  • Mobile power sources, such as electric vehicles and vehicle-mounted energy storage, can then be utilised to prolong the operation of an islanded microgrid and by definition can be relocated to meet system needs.
  • Targeted response is made possible by the automatic metering infrastructure and digital technologies that enable smart grid operation , resulting in a speedier recovery time and reduced disruption. These strategies stimulated interesting conversations between the partners and highlighted areas in which partners are trialing and implementing such solutions within their jurisdictions. Conversations also highlighted barriers to implementation which the research programme will investigate by diving deeper into and communicating with policy makers.

These innovative strategies and the digitisation of our electricity networks will play an essential role in building resilience to the increasing hazards caused by climate change. Dr Katherine Collett is continuing this work by gathering insights from our global partners and conducting analysis into shared challenges and opportunities. 

In June, the team will hear from EV charging company JOLT on their recent project with Ausgrid which aims to enhance charging infrastructure and accessibility across Sydney.

Key terminology

The ability of a system and its component parts to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a potentially hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner, including through ensuring the preservation, restoration, or improvement of its essential basic structures and functions.

Source: A. Lavell et al.

Examining the frequency and duration of the outages caused by common failures. Hazard The potential occurrence of a natural or human-induced physical event or trend or physical impact that may cause loss of life, injury, or other health impacts, as well as damage and loss to property, infrastructure, livelihoods, service provision, ecosystems, and environmental resources. In this report, the term hazard usually refers to climate-related physical events or trends or their physical impacts.

Source: F. H. Jufri, V. Widiputra, and J. Jung

The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected. Vulnerability encompasses a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt.

Source: M. Oppenheimer et al.

The presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places and settings that could be adversely affected.

Source: M. Oppenheimer et al.

The potential for consequences where something of value is at stake and where the outcome is uncertain,recognizing the diversity of values. Risk is often represented as probability of occurrence of hazardous events or trends multiplied by the impacts if these events or trends occur.

Source: M. Oppenheimer et al.