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Building Back Better: Our Energy Systems Against the Backdrop of Climate Change

Have you wondered how extreme heat, freezing, droughts and floods will impact our access to energy? Warming weather in the Arctic has resulted in a slower jetstream that in turn is resulting in deeper dips when low-pressure systems combined with a wavy polar vortex leads to extreme cold weather as far as Texas last week, leading to over 70 deaths and $18 billion in losses and exorbitant electricity bills as families recover from the impact on a  poorly prepared electrical grid. In this blog, we are going to focus on climate change impacts on our energy generation, delivery, and use and how weather analytics can optimize our investments, policies, and partnerships as we adapt to climate change.

1. Extreme weather events will cause significant disruptions to the energy grid

As we just witnessed in Texas this past week, we can no longer ignore climate change as it relates to access to reliable and affordable energy. Texas and California have both struggled with the extreme effects of climate change with the wildfires scorching much of the American West due to low rainfall in January to April 2020 resulting in intentional power cuts to reduce the risk of sparks from power lines. aWhere provided an urgent weather report in March 2020 warning of forest fire risks that were going to be more severe that the 2019 fire season which we correlated to a decade long trend in reduced rainfall for the sunshine state. Whether it is the freezing in Texas or the dry Santa Ana winds in California, our energy grid is strained by climate change. While the greatest economic damage has been reported mainly in US news, all countries have experienced various challenges to weather grids, especially the most prevalent global renewable energy source – hydroelectric power

Energy providers will be actively looking for investments and innovations to deliver a resilient energy grid to address a growing demand against the backdrop of increased frequency of extreme weather events. MIT has developed the Sustainable Energy System Analysis Modelling Environment (SESAME) that offers a system-scale energy analysis tool to assess the system-level greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of today’s changing energy system. As our society reduces its dependence on fossil fuels to achieve a zero-net carbon society, understanding weather trends and their impact on our grid and generation of renewable energy will be critical. aWhere has developed a simple weather trend tool to quantify local changes in weather patterns for all key weather variables to inform risk mitigation strategies in the energy sector. 

  1. Weather impacts on electric-vehicle market

During the past decade, electric vehicle stock has gone from 20,000 to 4.8 million cars.  All major car manufacturers are shifting their focus to electric vehicles, including trucks.  Meeting this growing demand for energy to charge electric vehicles will be an obvious challenge against the backdrop of weather extremes that pose significant challenges to energy grids. But have you considered what happens when temperatures drop to 20 F (-7C)? When a heater is working to keep you warm, the range can drop by 40% that will dramatically impact any long distance travel in the winter. Winter weather variability such as the recent winter storm that crippled Texas weather grids for a week will also impact EV mobility and so weather analytics to qualify temperature extremes will likely be an important statistic when range is posed on new EV car models, especially for temperate climates.

  1. Companies around the world are committing to sustainable development goals and the reduction of greenhouse gases along their global supply chains as we move to a near-zero emissions economy. 

Companies in the agriculture, manufacturing (especially steel), and transportation sectors will need to innovate in their drive towards zero emissions. This will include the use of weather science to ensure our food production systems are sustainable in the use of water as well as in the capture of carbon by the soil through proper soil conservation strategies. President Biden has directed the USDA to deliver a climate strategy for agriculture and forestry by June 2021. Such strategies should be driven by good weather, soil and agronomic science and with clear monitoring to ensure farmers are rewarded economically for being stewards of the land and part of the solution to a zero carbon economy.

It is clear that despite the economic recovery challenges posed by COVID-19, 2021 is positioned to be a productive year in building global coalitions to build back a better and greener economy. Organizations like the Business Council for Sustainable Energy is one such example that is supporting businesses to leverage science-based solutions as we develop a zero-carbon economy to mitigate against climate change and provision energy to both advanced and emerging economies around the world.