Climate and energy scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a method to pinpoint which electrical service areas will likely be most vulnerable as populations grow and temperatures rise.
A team led by Melissa Allen, postdoctoral researcher in ORNL's Climate Change Science Institute, developed algorithms that combine the lab's infrastructure and population datasets with high-resolution climate simulations run on its Titan supercomputer. The approach identifies electrical substations at the neighborhood level and determines their ability to handle additional demand based on predicted changes in climate and population.
For their analysis, the research team examined possible impacts of population and temperature changes through 2050 in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. The researchers found that electricity-demand increases caused by temperature rises are likely to have the greatest impact in areas serving small populations, and that large population influxes stress any affected service area, especially during peak demand.
The researchers intend for their research to be helpful to municipalities and utilities when planning for adjustments or upgrades to existing infrastructure. The analysis is also potentially useful to decision makers preparing resources needed for population movement in response to future extreme weather events. After a natural disaster, such as a high-intensity hurricane in the Gulf Coast region, for example, thousands of people could be displaced to areas ill-equipped to handle the sudden influx for an indefinite period of time.
“These results can affect how future service areas are defined and where new substation capacity within the national grid may need to be located,” Allen says.