Rise in severe weather from climate change threatens grid, according to Accenture research


According to new research from Accenture, 95% of utility executives believe that climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions has been contributing to increased extreme weather events that electricity networks have experienced over the past 10 years.

Also, 90% believe an expected rise in severe weather poses an increased financial risk to their grid business.

The survey was conducted online from November 2019 through January 2020.

Key findings include:

  • 73% of respondents said that extreme weather events are a significant challenge to network operations and safety.
  • 92% said they expect severe weather to increase in the next 10 years.
  • 88% said maintaining network resilience to extreme weather will result in significant increases in network prices for customers.
  • Contradictorily, 24% believe that their businesses are very well prepared to deal with the impact of extreme weather, with only 8% reporting being poorly prepared.

Flexibility is key to resilience

The study also showed that 95% of utility executives believe that building greater adaptability into the network over the next 10 years will be critical to increasing overall resilience. Further, 93% see system flexibility as the most cost-effective approach long-term.

In fact, 93% said they are testing innovative solutions for grid resilience, including advanced protection systems, vehicle-to-grid technology, automated self-healing grids and drone inspections of damage factors.

While 95% believe that active management of distributed generation – including solar PV, wind power and energy storage – will be key to supporting network resilience long term, 84% said lack of information on the locational data is affecting this theory.

In addition, the study concluded that lack of industry-wide guidelines and standards is hampering action to increase utilities resilience to severe weather. The top-ranked weather concerns for network resilience were very high winds (23%), flooding (17%) and winter ice and snowstorms (15%).

“With various parts of the world affected by droughts, wildfires, and flooding in addition to the U.S. hurricane season just around the corner, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and impacting the electricity grid,” said Stephanie Jamison, Global Industry Senior Managing Director, Accenture’s Utilities. “Greater system flexibility, delivered through digital and emerging technologies, will be critical to optimizing grid resilience in a cost-effective and timely manner.”

Amol Sabnis, Managing Director, Accenture’s Transmission and Distribution, said, “In the long-term, utilities can promote greater resilience by linking the benefits of major investments to grid-modernization strategies to convince policymakers, customers and other stakeholders of these benefits.”

Despite this conclusion, the impact of COVID-19 is raising “new questions such as, in the event of massive catastrophe how do we support the repair crews, feeding and sheltering them while meeting COVID-19 safety needs? What are the best technologies to protect employees’ health on the job, such as temperature scanning, social distancing and air monitoring,” he asked.

“The answers will require the industry fully teaming up, but with people and technology, we will get there,” Sabnis added.

The sixth edition of Accenture’s Digitally Enabled Grid surveyed 206 C-suite and senior vice-president-level executives at electric utilities in 28 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China (including Hong Kong), Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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