The Grid Optimization Blog

Climate Change Hysteria: Utilities Will Benefit

Utilities are getting regulatory approval to make major system upgrades. This is the kick-in-the-pants we’ve needed in order to get off the dime and update aging infrastructure.

Is climate change ‘real’? Probably. I’ve lived long enough to see local weather patterns change, and long term global temperature graphs show that the earth has gone through a number of heating and cooling periods over the millennia. So the climate is always changing. The latest upward trend of about a .5% increase in global absolute temperature over the last 100 years has happened before, even without human influence.

Half a percent absolute is an incredible level of thermal stability in the face of natural insolation variations and our best efforts to destroy the planet!

Are hurricanes and other outage-related weather events getting worse? President Obama and the Department of Energy say they are. But, at least in the case of hurricanes. The data doesn’t support the assertion that hurricanes are more frequent and/or more intense.

What the data does support is that several big (but not unusual) hurricanes have hit the most densely populated areas on the eastern seaboard – New York and New Jersey. The damage (and notoriety) would have been a lot less had they landed a little further north or south or veered out to sea again.

But those are analytical subtleties that political agendas (and the media) neglect or, to be kind, just don’t understand.

In his terrific article, The Politicization of Science, Sig Guggenmoos, Canadian ecologist and Editor of T&D World Vegetation Management Resource Center, contrasts real data with the media blast of political hot air.

“In April, Climate Central reported that weather-related power outages had doubled since 2003. While the authors concede an aging infrastructure and greater electricity demand are contributing factors, they point to climate change as a major cause. They state that while only two Category 4 or 5 hurricanes have made U.S. landfall since 1990, the average hurricane strength and total number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes is increasing. How they can make such a statement is baffling to me. Go to the National Hurricane Center web site and you can find that the average hurricane return period for the U.S. East coast from 1950 through 2011 is 0.55 years. The return period for Category 4 and 5 hurricanes is 6.8 years. The expectation then for the period of 1990 through 2013 is for 3.4 Category 4 or 5 events. Consequently, if there are any implied trends for climate change, they run opposite to the authors’ statement of increasing hurricane strength and frequency. They also state that while the trend in severe thunderstorm incidence is unknown, insurance companies are now paying out at least seven times more for thunderstorm damages than they were in the 1980s. Faced with a paucity of historical data to support the assertion of increasing frequency and intensity of thunderstorms the authors turn to a recent “ensemble of climate change models.” These models “demonstrated that rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases increases the risk of thunderstorms by adding more heat and water vapor to the atmosphere.” So in the absence of data, which would either validate or be cause for the rejection of the models, we should accept the model output?

This isn’t science. It’s pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.”

You nailed it Sig!

Still, utilities can’t take chances. Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast in 2012 and over one million customers lost power in the New York area alone. In 2011 hurricane Irene knocked out power to over 850,000 electric customers in PSE&G’s New Jersey territory. A month later a wet, heavy snow brought down numerous trees and power lines and 500,000 customers lost power. A year later hurricane Sandy came along and a whopping two million PSE&G customers were left without electricity.

As a result of these calamities, utilities are getting regulatory approval (in the form of $billions) and applause from their customers as they make major storm hardening system upgrades. They have to. If they don’t do better when another major storm comes along they could go the way of the Long Island Power Authority. LIPA was severely hammered for its lack of preparedness following Sandy. As a result, LIPA was privatized and is now PSEG Long Island.

The silver lining in climate change hysteria is this: we can expect accelerated adoption of new methodologies and technologies which will improve service even between storms. And it won’t be just coastal utilities that benefit. Any company with some history of outages caused by tornadoes, ice storms, derechoes, lightning… you name it, will share the benefits.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Aug 21, 2014

First as a correction, LIPA has not been privatized. Under contract with LIPA, PSEG functions as the service provider. The result is a hybrid structure that retains LIPA as a public utility with many of the same benefits of other government owned utilities.

Conceded that our climate may be warming because, as the piece appropriately states, geologically the earth has been heating up and cooling down since the beginning of time. The big question is what influence does man have on this.

A few things make me hesitate to jump on the global warming bandwagon blaming the greenhouse gases produced by mankind as the cause for what is happening. For one, the models that predict carbon induced warming are not very reliable and cannot even explain what has happened over the last 15 years let alone what the temperature will be at the end of the century.

Very important, man's contribution to green house gas inventories is a very small fraction of what is produced by natural sources, and well within the noise level of variations in these sources from time to time. On this basis alone I think it is appropriate to question the merit of spending trillions of dollars to affect an outcome over which we really have no control.

As an old utility guy, I do not see anything new in the weather events that today are causing significant outages. There has definitely been population growth in certain areas with an increase in investment that magnifies the extent of damage compared to years ago. In the final analysis, however, the weather events occuring today are the same as those we predicted in the 1970's. in terms of frequency and intensity.

If there is any silver lining to the climate change panic, it is the fact that many utilities are spending significant money to harden systems and improve service restoration. This is a good thing and puts a smile on the faces of the old utility guard.

Rohster (not verified)
on Aug 21, 2014

Don't be too sure that this is the goose to lay all your golden eggs. Here in Australia, the push for renewables under the RET, including government subsidised support for rooftop solar and wind turbines, has resulted in enormous strain on ageing infrastructure. This resulted in large amounts of capital expenditure to update the networks. Naturally this has had a dramatic effect on transmission/distribution costs over a short period of time.

The very same politicians that implemented the RET then turned around and accused the utilities of "gold plating" poles and wires. It's a nasty double edged sword and believe me, the utilites in the US won't win either when you see the cost of power rise by 30-40% over 4-6 years.

AScientistSkeptic (not verified)
on Aug 22, 2014

Short version: Anthropogenic climate change isn't real, it is just a "political agenda" and the climate experts cannot even correctly interpret their own data but Sig and I can and the data contradicts everything the scientists say. Even so, " utilities can’t take chances" and if we do have big storms we should beef up energy grid infrastructure. I work for energy grid infrastructure so Yaaaayyyyy!

on Aug 22, 2014

These are the key climate change facts as of September 2013 as published by the UN IPCC scientists themselves in their official 2,216-page scientific report _Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis_. (Note: It is very important to strip away the political propaganda that is the cover letter and the 20-page Summary Report for Policy Makers that are neither consensus documents nor scientific documents, but rather the propaganda work of political representatives to the UN that carry the water of their constituent governments. The unmolested 2013 UN IPCC scientific report itself can be found here (http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5_WGI-12Doc2b_Final... ).

1. There is no evidence of increased hurricanes or droughts or floods in the 20th or 21st centuries. The 2007 IPCC report was flat wrong on these conclusions. In fact the archaeological evidence of past flooding events indicates stormy weather was milder in the 20th century than in any of the preceding 5 centuries.

2. The 15-year hiatus in global mean surface temperature (GMST) warming since 1998 is real and points out the failure of the official climate models in grossly over-predicting temperature rise. Additionally, 3 of 5 studies found that ocean warming has also slowed during this time.

3. Factors other than CO2 such as solar variability, particulates, plant aerosols, and clouds must be more influential on climate than previously credited.

4. There is little evidence and no consensus among these scientists of any abrupt or catastrophic climate change occurring in the 21st century, and there is no evidence of critical tipping points or the irreversibility of climate change effects such as glacial ice loss.

5. The prediction for the most likely amount of sea level rise is just over 2 meters by the year 2500, and this pace is far lower than the average pace of rise for the past 18,000 years since the last ice age. Sea levels on the US west coast have actually been falling.

Overall, the 2013 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report published in September of 2013 is a dramatic recanting from the alarmism of the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. It is noteworthy that the recent White House “National Climate Assessment” virtually ignores the 2013 IPCC report and instead relies on the 2007 version to support its claims of already-occurring damage due to human activities. Ignoring the best science to instead pump out contradictory facts that suit a self-serving ideological and political narrative is the very definition of “propaganda,” and is certainly no basis for sound energy or climate policy-making.

The most important takeaway from all of the above is that the actual scientific climate consensus of 2013 is far less alarmist than it was in 2007 when Al Gore scared the world with Powerpoint pictures of an earth covered by hurricanes and the continental USA on fire from end to end. The full scientific report further reveals that plant fertility and food crop yields are increasing, the Earth has 6% more green plant coverage now than in 1982, winter mortality is decreasing far faster than summer mortality is increasing, general mortality rates continue to fall in most countries, and the burden of human disease is predicted to decrease 30% by 2030. Furthermore, the integrated assessment models (IAM) that tally up both the costs and benefits of climate change agree that the 0.8 degree C warming that has occurred since 1880 has been of net benefit to the Earth and human civilization, and the consensus of 14 studies is that the benefits will outweigh the costs for another 2 degrees C of warming (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/27740523).

Hardening the grid in general is certainly of benefit to reliability, and a much better way to spend money than on CO2 reductions -- especially efforts with marginal lifecycle reductions when properly accounted and with insignificant impact on global CO2 emissions.

Field Engineer (not verified)
on Aug 25, 2014

Don't see comments like this often, thanks guys, you restore my faith in humanity.

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