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How To Make the Transmission Grid More Resilient

image credit: Flooding in The Netherlands, July 2021; Creative Commons License by Romaine
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writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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Recent events have show how the oncoming climate shifts are wreaking havoc in developed countries previously thought to have resilience to natural disasters: Texas suffered freezing and outages, California wildfires, and the UK, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands have endured excessively hot weather, severe rainstorms and flooding. Wildfires ripped through Spain and Greece. Over 200 people have died in Europe from these emergencies.

These events cause all kinds of infrastructure damage, including downed power-lines, breached roads and flooded towns. People were left without electricity sometimes for days, and power grids were not built to withstand such extreme weather.

On both sides of the Atlantic, authorities are grappling with the problems of modernizing transmission infrastructure without incurring excessive costs. FERC recently issued a policy statement on boosting transmission infrastructure. While the EU is attempting to upgrade its member countries resiliency in the expectation of more extreme weather events through its Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre.

Some methods of improving transmission resiliency include replacing wooden poles with sturdier metal ones. Increasing the spacing between wires to ensure greater safety and lower the chance of sparking wildfires. Mounting sub-stations on stilts, instead of directly on the ground, thus elevating them from floods. Where this is not possible, installing sheet-pile flood walls made of composite materials to resist rust and decay, which form a barrier to incoming water and protect the machinery.

Smart meters and other smart grid features are necessary for both mitigation of power outages due to faults with the energy supply system and recovery from outages because they allow the system to automatically reroute electricity via undamaged circuits and feeders. Fire detection and protection assets need to be deployed where wildfires may occur – which are now starting in climate areas where they were rare or non-existent previously.

This is going to need billion-dollar investments to ensure the transmission system is suitable to meet the challenges of a hotter, wetter and more unstable world. The US Government's infrastructure plan is a step along the way, along with FERC's recognition that developing transmission grids takes far too long in planning and authorization stages and will need speeding up.

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