A new study from Accenture has shown that 95 per cent of utility executives see growing financial and operational risks from severe weather events caused by climate change.

At the same time, only one-quarter (24 per cent) believe that their businesses are very well prepared to deal with the impact of extreme weather, with one in twelve (eight per cent) reporting being poorly prepared.

The study, the sixth edition of Accenture’s Digitally Enabled Grid research, is based on a survey of more than 200 electric utility executives in 28 countries on five continents.

Other key findings include:

  • Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of survey respondents said that extreme weather events represent a significant challenge to network operations and safety
  • 92 per cent said they expect severe weather to increase in the next ten years
  • 88 per cent said maintaining network resilience to extreme weather will result in significant increases in network prices for customers

Stephanie Jamison, a global industry managing director who leads Accenture’s Utilities business, said that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and impacting the electricity grid, with various parts of the world affected by droughts, wildfires, and flooding in addition to the U.S. hurricane season just around the corner.

“Greater system flexibility, delivered through digital and emerging technologies, will be critical to optimising grid resilience in a cost-effective and timely manner,” Ms Jamison said.

“For example, active management of available network redundancy, distributed generation and energy storage can help maintain power delivery during severe weather events and speed service restoration after network failures.”

Building network resilience

More than nine in ten respondents (95 per cent) in Accenture’s report believed that building greater adaptability into the network – such as network reconfiguration, embedded storage, redundancy and voltage management – over the next ten years would be critical to increasing overall resilience. 

Furthermore, 93 per cent saw system flexibility as the most cost-effective approach to deliver long-term resilience. 

In fact, nearly the same number of executives (93 per cent) said that they were testing innovative solutions for grid resilience, including advanced protection systems, vehicle-to-grid technology, automated self-healing grids and drone inspections of damage factors.

However, enabling greater network flexibility remains a challenge. 

While 95 per cent of executives believed that active management of distributed generation – including solar photovoltaics, wind power and energy storage – would be key to supporting network resilience in the long term, 84 per cent said a lack of information on the location, size, specification and operational state of smaller distributed energy resource installations is affecting resilience in the near term.

In addition, the study found that a lack of industry-wide guidelines and standards is hampering action to increase utilities’ resilience to the effects of severe weather on the grid. 

Utility executives said their top-ranked weather concerns for network resilience include very high winds (23 per cent), flooding (17 per cent) and winter ice and snowstorms (15 per cent).

Charlie Richardson, Accenture’s Utilities Lead in Australia and New Zealand said that in the long-term, utilities could promote greater resilience by linking the benefits of major investments to grid-modernisation strategies to convince policymakers, customers and other stakeholders of these benefits.

In the short term, however, COVID-19 is increasing the urgency to address resilience.

“It is raising new questions such as, in the event of massive catastrophes, how do we support the repair crews, feeding and sheltering them while meeting COVID-19 safety needs?” Mr Richardson said.

“What are the best technologies to protect employees’ health on the job, such as temperature scanning, social distancing and air monitoring? The answers will require the industry fully teaming up, but with people and technology, we will get there.”

Research methodology

Accenture’s annual Digitally Enabled Grid research evaluates the implications and opportunities of an increasingly digital grid. 

For the most-recent research, Accenture surveyed 206 C-suite and senior vice-president-level executives at electric utilities in 28 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China (including Hong Kong), Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. The survey was conducted online from November 2019 through January 2020.

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