Joint ComEd-Argonne National Lab climate study predicts greater heat, humidity to press regional grid

Published on November 14, 2022 by Chris Galford

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As a result of climate change, Illinois is likely to face higher heat and humidity levels in the years ahead, according to a first-of-its-kind climate study of the region from ComEd and the Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Climate Resilience and Decision Science.

This isn’t a one-off, to be clear: the analysis projected mid-century climate conditions for the area to be substantially warmer across all seasons, spawning prolonged heatwaves amplified by higher humidity. That will bring additional problems, including new tests of the region’s grid reliability and resiliency, as the demand for air conditioner use grows across summer, late spring, and early fall at the same time grid use is shifting toward greater electrification of transportation, buildings and industry loads, along with expanding use of intermittent renewable and distributed generation.

“Severe and destructive weather caused by climate change is already impacting our area, and this study gives us a preview of what’s to come – including warmer, more humid conditions that will pose new challenges to the power grid,” Gil Quiniones, ComEd CEO, said. “Our customers today enjoy record-setting reliability at one of the lowest rates in America; using this localized climate data, we can plan the grid investments necessary to ensure we continue to deliver reliable, resilient energy to our customers, even as the grid must handle more severe weather and increased demand due to decarbonization.”

The study was undertaken in collaboration with another ComEd-commissioned study on pathways to decarbonization in Illinois to help the company understand the impacts of climate change on its grid and operations and brainstorm strategies to adapt. Some items, among others, which may demand adaptation specifically outlined in the report: increased heat could exceed the design limits of current ComEd transformers and conductors and spike HVAC loads, icing risks could expand and cause additional winter outage risks, and denser vegetation could increase risks to infrastructure.

Responding to these assessments, Argonne recommended that ComEd revise its equipment’s design and construction standards, adjust vegetation management practices and increase energy efficiency programs to reduce projected grid stress.

A second phase of the study should begin next year, focused on impacts to flood risk and convection – a weather phenomenon that causes severely windy storms and tornadoes, like the derecho that slammed the region in 2020.