Joint ComEd-Argonne National Laboratory report shows future climate impacts to Illinois, proposes new company adaptations

Published on January 18, 2023 by Chris Galford

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A new report from ComEd and Argonne National Laboratory tackles the impact of climate change on northern Illinois’ future, what it will mean for grid planning, and how companies like ComEd can adapt to meet the new weather and climate scenarios it will bring to the region.

For Argonne’s Center for Climate Resilience and Decision Science (CCRDS), this represented the first publicly available issue for the report. CCRDS is a national center focused on using scientific resources to provide information for communities that will help patch vulnerabilities and address resilience in the face of climate change. In this report, authors delved into temperature, heat index, and average wind over historical and mid-century time periods to predict future climate impacts for the region and analyzed how those impacts might affect ComEd’s energy demand.

“Weather more typical of Saint Louis or Louisville will be more common in northern Illinois by mid-century,” Jordan Branham, a senior climate risk and resilience analyst in Argonne’s Decision and Infrastructure Sciences division who worked on the report, said. ​“Days when the average temperature exceeds 93 or 94 degrees Fahrenheit will be a more annual occurrence, and higher nighttime temperatures will offer less relief during a heat wave. This could result in lots of air conditioners running at high speed simultaneously, which could stress and overtax the power grid.”

The report noted that grid planning best practices generally emphasize historical weather patterns, but climate change will make anticipation of unprecedented weather conditions and risks more necessary. A change in system planning may be necessary to guarantee the electric distribution system can meet customers’ needs with transformers, conductors, and more – and changing climate could also demand alterations to meet changes in vegetation growth and subsequent management.

“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 to serve new needs as customers adopt electric vehicles and heat pumps.”

The models and simulations used for this report in forecasting future conditions were based on resolutions of 12 km by 12 km, made possible by Argonne. Typical climate models host resolutions of about 100 km-by-100 km – meaning the Argonne model was much more specific and locally oriented, thanks to its supercomputers.

This analysis was phase one of an ongoing study run by senior scientist Rao Kotamarthi. Phase two is already underway.