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Episode #36: 'Tackling Climate Change Resilience And Adaptation' With Nelson Yip Of Con Edison [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. Each two weeks we’ll connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network...

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  • Jun 8, 2021 11:30 am GMT
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This week on the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast, we’re tackling the utility climate discussion from the angle of resilience and adaptation. Where most utility climate discussions deal with emissions reductions, decarbonization, and other methods to try to prevent the worst climate change chain reactions, many in the industry are recognizing that, regardless of how swiftly we implement the clean energy transition, we’re still looking at some likely impacts to the environment around us from climate change that’s already been set into motion. For that reason, addressing reactions to and preparations for climate change are just as critical, especially in an industry that has such large, widespread, and critical infrastructure as power companies do.

This focus on climate change resilience and adaptation was brought to us by Nelson Yip, the Director of Strategic Planning at Con Edison. Nelson was one of the forces driving Con Edison’s official Climate Change Resilience and Adaptation Report, which he recently shared with the Energy Central community. While the document is impressive and can stand on its own, host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester couldn’t help but bring Nelson into the podcast booth for a deeper dive into this trend-setting document and learn even more from Nelson about the process behind the generation and implementation of this report with an eye towards helping other utilities across the industry take similar steps to prepare for the future.

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

Thanks to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriAnterix, and ScottMadden

 

Key Links

Nelson Yip’s Energy Central Profile: https://energycentral.com/member/profile/nelson-yip/about

 

How Con Edison Is Building a Climate-Resilient Energy Delivery System for New York City: https://energycentral.com/c/pip/how-con-edison-building-climate-resilient-energy-delivery-system-new-york-city

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price: 

Welcome to Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast, the show where we discuss everything energy and utility related with thought leaders who are shaping the energy sector and creating the utility of the future.

Jason Price: 

I'm your host, Jason Price of West Monroe, and I'm joined by podcast producer and Energy Central's Community Manager, Matt Chester.

Jason Price: 

Matt. I'm not aware of any utility in North America that has gone to such lengths to operationalize climate change in the way that Con Edison has. The recently published Climate Change Resilience and Adaptation report by Con Ed sets a framework on how the utility system will adapt and remain operational as we expect higher sea levels, more intense storms, more frequent heat waves, and other impacts from a changing environment.

Jason Price: 

For example, any new infrastructure build-out, like a substation, must be constructed around a new set of parameters in order to withstand another devastating storm like Superstorm Sandy. Every element of the company must now incorporate a flavor of resiliency and adaptation in its investments and overall business decisions.

Jason Price: 

And using the leading minds in science and climatology, Con Edison is shoring up its approach based on an informed risk scenario.

Jason Price: 

If you read the report, Con Ed is not investing at a 25% level, or even at a 50% level of severity probability. Con Edison is going all out and reinforcing systems, expecting a 75% probability or higher in climate severity. They are proactively planning today, because they're expecting considerable trouble tomorrow.

Jason Price: 

From Con Edison's perspective, we have to begin adapting to the impact of what climate change presents. It's no longer wishful thinking that this problem will solve itself, or that we can reverse what has been done. The authors are clearly beyond the acceptance stage. The discussion has moved from is it real or not, to not only is climate change real, but will be severe, and what can we do now to withstand what will be unleashed by these weather events in the decades to come.

Jason Price: 

Matt, you're in Florida, Hurricane Central for North America. I'm sure you are interested in hearing from our guests as much as the rest of us.

Matt Chester: 

You've got that right, Jason. And like you said, it's about being proactive and being pragmatic about what's actually happening and what's already happening. So I'm glad we have utilities like Con Ed who are taking the lead. And I'm definitely interested to hear what our guest has to say on the topic.

Jason Price: 

Absolutely. Let's first thank our sponsors for supporting the Power Perspectives on Energy Central.

Jason Price: 

To West Monroe. West Monroe works with the nation's largest electric gas and water utilities in their telecommunication, grid modernization, and digital and workforce transformations. West Monroe brings a multidisciplinary team that blends utility, operations, technology expertise, to address modernizing aging infrastructure, advisory on transportation electrification, ADMS deployments, and DER and cybersecurity.

Jason Price: 

To Esri, an international supplier of geographic information, GIS software, web GIS, and geo database management applications.

Jason Price: 

To Guidehouse, formerly Navigant Research, a premier market research and advisory firm covering the global energy transformation.

Jason Price: 

To Anterix, focused on delivering transformative broadband that enables the modernization of critical infrastructure for the energy, transportation, logistics, and other sectors of our economy.

Jason Price: 

And to Scott Madden. Scott Madden, serving clients across the energy utility ecosystem. Areas of focus include transmission and distribution, the grid edge, generation, energy markets, rates and regulations, corporate sustainability, and corporate services. The firm helps clients develop and implement strategies, improve critical operations, reorganize departments and entire companies, and implement myriad initiatives.

Jason Price: 

Well, our guest today is likely one of the most distinguished and impressive minds at C on Edison. He recently shared with the Energy Central Community a critical Con Edison document that he helped to author, called the Climate Change Resilience and Adaptation Report. And behind that work, he brings nearly 20 years of utility expertise.

Jason Price: 

I am also pleased to share, he's a professional friend whom I've met and spoken to frequently. So without further ado Nelson Yip, Director of Strategic Planning at Con Edison, welcome to the Power Perspectives.

Nelson Yip: 

Jason and Matt, it's great to be here.

Jason Price: 

Nelson, we're thrilled to have you here. And before we dig into the report, I want to start with your career and that path you've taken at Con Edison. Tell us about this and how it helped you prepare to lead this report.

Nelson Yip: 

Well, I started with the company in a rotational leadership program. I saw all aspects of electric, gas, and steam commodities on the ground, which really gave me a broad perspective. Now, even though I was trained to be an electrical and computer engineer at Cornell, it was at Con Edison where I learned to apply my engineering skills.

Nelson Yip: 

So over 10 years ago, I was part of the team that developed the strategic long range plan for the company's electric business. That includes distribution, transmission, energy supply and rate impacts over a 20 year period. So at Con Edison I've always been part of groups that focus on improving infrastructure, from being part of a team managing construction and maintenance of Manhattan's electric distribution system, to being in operations and recovery efforts for post-Superstorm Sandy, and then to directing company-wide emergency preparedness and response activities as part of emergency management.

Nelson Yip: 

I have learned to manage crises big and small. I've been thinking deeply about clean energy policy, climate, and sustainability for over a decade. These days, by being in strategy, I can build upon my foundational knowledge and my internal and external network of stakeholders to really tie together, to incorporate climate risk and resiliency into planning and operations.

Jason Price: 

Nelson, let's give our listeners a clear understanding of the unique considerations of a Con Edison service area when addressing climate change, both in terms of geography and population. Tell us, why is your franchise territory of particular interest?

Nelson Yip: 

Well Con Edison serves 10 million of people in New York City and its northern suburb of Westchester County. It is among the most reliable utilities in the nation, delivering electricity, natural gas and steam to customers from Wall Street to Broadway to Main Street. We are one of the nation's largest investor-owned energy delivery companies, with approximately $12 billion in annual revenues and $63 billion in assets.

Nelson Yip: 

We have an unwavering focus on investing in renewables and the latest innovations in smart technologies to improve our resiliency, to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and evolve into a next generation clean energy company, all while committed to helping New York state meet its clean energy goals.

Nelson Yip: 

For example, through our clean energy businesses, Con Edison has become the second largest producer of solar energy in North America. We are planning for a significantly cleaner energy future.

Nelson Yip: 

Now planning for New York City, you have to consider coastal climate impacts. The city is also very dense and urban, so our infrastructure is unique, given the limited street space, and customers are becoming more and more reliant on energy delivery as technology use increases.

Jason Price: 

Okay. With such complexities, let's discuss the Resilience and Adaptation report. Can you summarize for us this report? And are you pleased with the outcome?

Nelson Yip: 

Jason, yes, I'm pleased with the outcome so far. We did three things. We reviewed and updated the latest climate science so that our engineers can design proactive solutions. We created a process for this new science to be considered and applied across company functions and engaged senior leaders with a governance structure to enable alignment and also change management. And we updated our engineering and design processes to continue to design for a safe, reliable and resilient system.

Nelson Yip: 

In January of this year, the utility issued a report detailing how it would incorporate climate into its design and operations.

Nelson Yip: 

Focusing on the environment sustainability and climate change is not new economism. Post-Superstorm Sandy, we improved our system with over a billion dollars in storm hardening investments. So from 2017 to 2019, we also engaged in an extensive study to understand the risks associated with climate change. And in 2020, we focused on climate adaptation and system resilience.

Nelson Yip: 

So we are taking a proactive, forward-looking approach to climate resiliency in recent years, and we are already using its climate change projections for decision-making in areas such as power supply forecasting, and also in engineering and planning. Clearly, the enhanced resiliency of the company's, electric, gas and steam systems infrastructure is even more important now than ever before, because of the impact of climate change. Our climate change implementation plan really builds on a foundation for how we integrate climate change considerations into existing and future company projects.

Matt Chester: 

Nelson, I'm curious, as you described the process of creating the report, did you take into account any potential stakeholder or public feedback in that process?

Nelson Yip: 

Matt, yes, we did. The stakeholder process is such an important component of what we did. Without the support and feedback of our stakeholders, we really learned to understand the importance of what people in the industry were thinking, our stakeholders, our shareholders, as well as internally, what we needed to change in order to make sure that we embraced climate change as a company.

Jason Price: 

Nelson, what was it like trying to get buy-in on this report internally? I mean, you have 14,000 employees. Did you face any resistance? How'd you get the company behind this? And how did change management come into play during this process?

Nelson Yip: 

No, thank you, Jason. We knew there would be significant change management involved, so we created a governance process for early alignment and ongoing change management. The collaborative work and the stakeholder management that we talked about is really important. Senior leadership has been critical in managing the process. You can't underestimate the importance of change management, particularly in such a large and complex company with over 200 years of experience and millions of customers to serve today. To continue providing excellent service to our current customers, our work has to be a strategic, operational, and practical, so we really need to align our thinking to the best available climate science.

Nelson Yip: 

We're accustomed to thinking about safety in a traditional sense, that is people coming home safely every day with no accidents in the field, or environmental safety, such as no oil spills. In this case, we asked our engineers and designers to think boldly about climate. We asked them to plan to a different future. It really involved shifting mindsets to help understand the key messages about climate change and that the need to address it is now.

Nelson Yip: 

So we created an advisory team with more than 40 internal members to serve as local change agent experts. That group has been really successful in helping us embrace and apply growth mindset in their departments.

Nelson Yip: 

We really worked on promoting the importance of change management and stakeholder participation, and we really worked to increase engagement.

Nelson Yip: 

So based on my experience, I was able to use my engineering, planning and operational skills, and the 20 years of relationships I've built to get buy-in. What we realized that more work needs to be done, there has to be an organic growth element to what we need to do.

Jason Price: 

When analyzing utility action on climate, people think first about the causes of climate change and how can a utility do its part to decarbonize and slow down climate change? As a large utility like Con Edison, how are you able to balance that aspect of climate action while also addressing climate resiliency?

Nelson Yip: 

One of our stakeholders told me, "You have to think of climate change with a capital C." It has to be both about decarbonization and mitigation, and also adapting for physical climate risks. So as we electrify and as we become cleaner, we have an opportunity to also consider the adaptation of our infrastructure to a changing climate.

Jason Price: 

Is Con Edison's climate adaptation planning just about Con Edison as a company and its assets, or are you looking at the entire ecosystem of Con Edison? For example, your suppliers and your vendor community.

Nelson Yip: 

Resilience is a shared goal. So I'm focused on the utility actions. By enhancing climate risk and resiliency, we've had to take a look at processes, procedures, and really enhancing well-established engineering designs and processes. So we do have to look at the entire ecosystem.

Nelson Yip: 

So internally, from the junior engineer to the executive leadership team, we all have to support climate resilience. At Con Edison, we continue to be focused on environment, social, governance and ESG issues, and we know that our actions help protect and adapt our infrastructure for the communities that we serve.

Jason Price: 

Back to the engagement of a variety of stakeholders. You know, you included numerous municipalities and government agencies, advocates, customers, and more. So do you find that Con Edison is leading and guiding these other organizations about the best path forward, or is it really more of a collaborative effort to bring in these stakeholders?

Nelson Yip: 

So I am so grateful to have other organizations and stakeholders that are true collaborators. They really work to challenge us to aspire to do even more. So we've been working with many of these stakeholders over many years in our general [rate 00:13:59] cases and on climate related studies, issues, and plans. So we know that we'll get a better product by partnering with New York City and the municipalities, the environmental and customer advocates, and the research community to expand our knowledge of climate research.

Nelson Yip: 

We have a legacy of continuous learning and building back stronger following storms and heat waves. And so we look forward to continue collaboration and engagement to protect and adapt our infrastructure for the communities that we serve.

Jason Price: 

Nelson, thank you for that. The full report can be found on EnergyCentral.com, and I encourage everyone in the utility industry who's listening to this podcast to read it in its entirety. It's a brilliant read and highly informative and practical for any city along the coast to be considering.

Jason Price: 

Nelson, now it's time for the lightning round. We'd like to shift this to our listeners, to get to know you a bit more on a personal level. Responses will just be one word or phrase. So Nelson, are you ready?

Nelson Yip: 

I'm ready.

Jason Price: 

All right. Last book or article you read that really made you think.

Nelson Yip: 

Bill Gates's How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. Great book.

Jason Price: 

What TV show or movie have you watched on repeat too many times?

Nelson Yip: 

I'd have to say Dora the Explorer. I do have a two and a half year old.

Jason Price: 

What is your dream job, if not Con Edison, of course?

Nelson Yip: 

Have to be an entrepreneur.

Jason Price: 

Favorite road trip snack.

Nelson Yip: 

Pringles.

Jason Price: 

What are you most passionate about?

Nelson Yip: 

Truly saving the planet.

Jason Price: 

Fantastic. Well, this has been eye-opening, and as a reward for being a great sport with all of our questions, we're giving you the final word. So what will you be focused on it at Con Edison next? What are your next set of priorities?

Nelson Yip: 

Jason, Matt, and for all the listeners, we have so much more work to do. It's really an exciting time to be at Con Edison and in the energy industry. How we focused on the climate change resiliency discussion, propagating it internally, and integrating those efforts into our company's commodity long range plans.

Nelson Yip: 

The pace of change is truly increasing. We're really thinking about how to forge ahead. We're turning our planning to resilience investments and asset plans, and the city and state have set ambitious climate goals. We think the goals are achievable, and we believe that we're in a unique position to lead the transition to the clean energy future with physical climate risks in mind. Thank you for having me.

Jason Price: 

Nelson, I can't thank you enough for this insightful conversation on climate resiliency at utilities, and for walking us through what the Con Edison plan looks like moving forward. We'll keep an eye on how implementation is going, and we'll perhaps have to bring you back to the podcast to give us an interim report. So thank you again for joining us.

Nelson Yip: 

It's been my pleasure to be here. Thank you, Jason and Matt for being such wonderful hosts.

Jason Price: 

You can always reach Nelson through the Energy Central platform where he welcomes your questions and comments. Once again, I'm your host, Jason Price. Plug in and stay fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at EnergyCentral.com. See you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

As a reminder, the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is always looking for the authors of the most insightful articles and the members with most impactful voices within the Energy Central community to invite them to discuss further so we can dive even deeper into these compelling topics. Posting twice per month (on the second and fourth Tuesdays), we'll seek to connect with professionals in the utility industry who are engaging in creative or innovative work that will be of interest to their colleagues and peers across the Energy Central community. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for our next episode! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

All new episodes of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast will be posted to the relevant Energy Central community group, but you can also subscribe to the podcast at all the major podcast outlets, including:


Thanks once again to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriAnterix, and ScottMadden

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