climate change risk analysis for power power transmission systems

(Relatively) Good news for Egyptian power transmission systems

Geo-spatial insights from the Spottitt MF Demo of Climate Conditions Monitoring (Sign-up for free here), devoted to the ongoing COP27 climate conference in Sharm-El-Sheikh.

Key takeaways

  • In the last 5 years, the Egyptian power grid experienced fewer high wind incidents compared to the previous 5 years, yet they impacted a larger portion of the network.
  • Frequency of prolonged rainfalls has dropped in the last 5 years compared to the previous 5 years, while the portion of the affected grid remains more or less the same.
  • As for the hot temperatures, they continue to rise gradually, affecting a bigger portion of the network.

Wind’s impact on power lines’ safety and performance

The wind is one of many natural weather conditions that affects power grids

High winds can blow objects into overhead lines, physically damaging the equipment and insulation

Above a wind speed of 10 m/s and higher, power lines may start swaying. This can result in them touching each other and, as wind speeds increase, the risk of line breakage also increases.

Winds of 20 m/s and higher can cause trees to fall, in particular those in poor health. So, even trees and other vegetation growing safely outside the line corridors can damage assets and cause dangerous ignitions when blown over 

Both cases end up in material and financial losses and power outages for consumers and businesses alike. 

Another issue to bear in mind is the impact of ageing infrastructure. 

The deteriorating health of the assets reduces their ability to withstand extreme weather conditions. There have been instances when power lines came down at 14 m/s, which is substantially under the speed of 25 m/s specified as a minimum threshold in many countries regulations. 

So how much of an issue are high winds for the Egyptian power transmission system?

Egypt is not a windy country when compared to places like the UK but still in the 2017-2021 years 2264 km (54% of the total Egyptian power transmission network by length, 24.2% by the number of assets) experienced at least 1 hour per year of high winds above 15 m/s. Compared with 1732 km (41.5% of the total Egyptian power transmission network by length, 18% by the number of assets) in the 2012-2016 years. 

Here is what that looks like:

In 2012-2016, there were a total of 155 ‘incidents’ (high winds above 15 m/s) across the highlighted sections of the network.

While in 2017-2021, there were a total of 136 ‘incidents’ (high winds above 15 m/s) across the highlighted sections of the network.

Rainfall effects on power grid integrity

Heavy precipitation also poses a danger to power grids. 

Like high winds, it can physically damage the insulation and other elements. Water can seep in cracks and breaks and continue its harmful job, resulting in network integrity deterioration and ultimate disruption. 

Erosion and land movement triggered by floods weaken the foundations of transmission towers, jeopardising the grid’s integrity. 

Heavy downpours responsible for floods might bury the lines under the water, bringing extremely serious explosive and humanitarian risks. 

Limited or restricted access to the whole area or flooded equipment in particular, makes it difficult for restoration teams to quickly repair the service, resulting in prolonged power outages

Lightning, which often complements heavy rain, can also damage equipment due to power surges and cause dangerous ignitions. 


Is Egypt’s heavy rainfall on the rise or on the decline?

It is no surprise that much of Egypt is very dry and experiences very limited rainfall, let alone days of heavy rainfall. 

That isn’t traditionally the case for assets located in the Nile Delta where seasonal rains are frequent and heavy.  But, even the network assets in the Nile delta are experiencing fewer days of heavy rainfall than in the past. 

In the five years of 2017-2021, 2510 km (60% of the total Egyptian power transmission network by length, 45.5% by the number of assets) experienced more than 120 days in a year with more than 15mm of rainfall. 

Compared with 2609 km (62.7% of the total Egyptian power transmission network by length, 48.5% by the number of assets) in the five years of 2012-2016. 

But the real difference comes when you look at frequency. In 2012-2016 there were no less than 505 ‘incidents’ of assets experiencing greater than 120 days of rainfall over 15mm, but that number drops sharply to only 320 ‘incidents’ in 2017-2021. 

Here is what that looks like:

In 2012-2016, there were no less than 505 ‘incidents’ of assets experiencing greater than 120 days of rainfall over 15mm.

In 2017-2021, there were only 320 ‘incidents’ of assets experiencing greater than 120 days of rainfall over 15mm.

Hot temperatures and their impact on power lines 

As ambient temperature increases, all elements of energy infrastructure can start to underperform or even fail. This is because almost every piece of electrical equipment – generators, power lines, transformers – have an optimal operating temperature.

High temperatures also reduce the performance of the grid due to the fact that the carrying capacity of electric power cables decreases as air temperatures rise. 

Extreme heat can cause lines to stretch and sag, reducing the distance between the lines and the ground, or between individual lines and other lines, or between the line and trees. This means a risk of sparking, wildfire ignition or the line failing, resulting in outages and thousands of people affected. 

On the other hand, hot temperatures drive up energy demands, as fridges, freezers and air conditioning units work harder. This can overload the electric grid and cause brownouts or rolling blackouts.

But hot temperatures don’t just affect the demand for power. They also have a significant effect on supply. 

Power plants are highly dependent on water to cool down their systems. It means that the hotter and drier the weather, the higher the power grid’s demand for water,  often in short supply during periods of drought. Cooling systems themselves need electricity too, adding even more demand for energy.


Is the Egyptian transmission grid melting? 

No, but the hot middle eastern temperatures Egypt has always experienced continue to increase in their frequency and geographical extent. 

In 2012-2016, there were 101 incidents of temperature > 30°C lasting more than 2600 hours and affecting 1225 km, which is 29% of the length of the whole network. 

While in 2017-2021 there were, respectively, 116 incidents affecting 1375 km, which is 33% of the length of the whole network.

Here is what that looks like:

101 incidents of temperature > 30°C lasting more than 2600 hours across the highlighted sections of the network in 2012-2016.

116 ‘incidents’ (temperature > 30°C lasting more than 2600 hours ) across the highlighted sections of the network in 2017-2021.

How to protect power lines from extreme weather events 

Satellite-derived geospatial data and analytics is redefining the way operators monitor their critical infrastructure. This is the only monitoring method that allows surveillance at scale, in near real-time and with no constraints on asset location. 

With risk prevention cheaper than emergency response, it pays to have an in-depth asset-by-asset understanding of both the climate risks each has been exposed to over the years and how that exposure is changing due to climate change.

With just a few clicks, digital data in numerical and heat map formats via Spottitt MF for climate conditions monitoring gives you that detail and insight. You can treat it as stand-alone data or integrate it into your existing asset management systems to build well-informed asset restoration and upgrade plans.

Lucy Kennedy

Lucy Kennedy

Spottitt CEO and FIRE EO Evangelist for Infrastructure

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