climate-resilient utility infrastructure

Is Your Utility Infrastructure Climate Resilient?

Climate-related risks are increasing

More frequent and more severe weather events are happening all around the globe. Violent hurricanes in the Philippines, the Caribbean and Eastern Canada, catastrophic floods in Pakistan, and record heatwaves in Europe – all these have hit us in just the last few months. 

These and other extremes have a tremendous humanitarian and economic impact on local communities and damage our critical infrastructure. They affect the safety of pipelines, disrupt transportation and distribution systems, cause power outages, and impact clean water delivery and waste water handling.

The situation is aggravated by two additional factors. 

The first is that a large portion of our current utility infrastructure was designed and built years ago, for climate conditions that were more favourable and less volatile. The second is that regulation and the demands of our journey to net zero mean increasing requirements on our utility networks with regards to their flexibility, reliability and performance. These two factors combined mean that our utility networks are increasingly vulnerable to climate-related issues.

Also, we shouldn’t forget that the utility sector is a highly interconnected system, where energy generation requires water, water supply requires energy. Thus, damage to one utility network can easily cascade into disruption across all utility networks.

Impact of climate and weather events on different types of infrastructure

Power network operators are particularly exposed to the risk of flooding, icing and tree fall during storms, all of which cause widespread outages. On the other hand, rising temperatures and periods of drought drastically increase the risk of wildfires and short circuits due to sagging. 

As for gas and water network operators, the roots of encroaching vegetation, periods of drought, flooding, natural land movement and landslides can put undue pressure on underground pipelines and ultimately cause leakages and supply disruption. 

In order to mitigate these risks, utility network operators need to not only increase their monitoring of risks, changes and encroachments in and around their assets but also to increase their understanding of the environmental conditions that their assets have experienced over the years, and how those conditions are changing with climate change.

Local insights as a part of a risk mitigation strategy

Of course, climate change affects each corner of the world differently, and when we say corner of the world we don’t mean nationwide, we don’t mean regionally, we really mean locally down to a scale of kilometres.

In order to design effective risk mitigation strategies, it’s essential for utility operators to understand the environmental conditions their assets are exposed to, and how these have changed over time. 

Have a look at the analysis below which shows how instances of severe weather (heavy rain, high winds and freezing temperature) have significantly increased over the last 10 years (orange and red) in some locations, but decreased (green and blue) in others.

Note: This analysis is part of the Spottitt MF Climate Conditions Monitoring. One of a number of infrastructure monitoring solutions delivered by the Spottitt MF platform, a metric-rich cloud-based solution that allows infrastructure owners to monitor a wide range of asset risks, at scale using satellite imagery and other GIS data. More info here.

How to protect infrastructure from weather extremes

In order to put in place sufficient mitigation and adaptation plans, infrastructure owners and operators need to be fully aware of the local environmental and other risks, and as we have shown above, even the climate is dynamic.

Satellite-based monitoring allows for the remote inspection of thousands of kilometres of infrastructure assets, regardless of their geographic location. Frequent revisits, fast data and analytics delivered in a digital format make these services cost-effective and easy to plug into existing GIS, SAP and asset management systems.  

This helps maintenance managers define well-informed and geographically tailored action plans for minimising their exposure and recovery from the identified risks. Based on the data, they may decide to invest in new assets, asset upgrades, redundancy, or improve the speed of network recovery post-event.

Conclusion

Unless utilities become more prepared for climate change and the increasing frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events, they expose themselves and society to both physical and financial risks. Forward-looking critical asset owners and operators must have local insights into the environmental conditions their assets are exposed to, and how these have changed over time in order to implement maintenance strategies which improve grid resilience and reliability. Asset owners need cost-effective digital monitoring solutions that provide regular local insights and metrics at a national scale, and Spottitt is showing that satellites have a key role to play in this.

Lucy Kennedy

Lucy Kennedy

Spottitt CEO and FIRE EO Evangelist for Infrastructure

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