Let Me Plant a Seed. Climate Change Requires Adaptation and Mitigation ― Now

by | May 18, 2022 | Stories

Three years ago, my two young daughters and I planted a sequoia tree in our yard. When we look at that tree, we marvel at how little it has grown. That’s OK, we can wait. 

Let me plant a seed with you: While we can’t eliminate climate change, we may still have time to prepare for its impacts, if we increase our adaptation and mitigation efforts right now. On this, we cannot wait.

Here in California, wildfires and drought are among dramatic, increasing examples of the climate change-related threats facing people in our local communities and those of us who keep the energy flowing to power their lives. Twelve of the 20 largest wildfires in state history occurred within the last five years. 

Moreover, the state is suffering through its worst drought in 1,200 years. This past January through March were the driest three months in recorded state history. 

While we continue our efforts to mitigate climate change, we must also adapt to it. Utilities must begin now to incorporate projected climate conditions (rather than relying on historical data) into electric system planning. This is how we will ensure a resilient, decarbonized grid of the future. By gaining a better understanding of projected climate changes across our service area, we can better identify system vulnerabilities, prioritize investments and strengthen our grid infrastructure.

Modernizing the critical infrastructure that powers communities is among the findings of Adapting for Tomorrow: Powering a Resilient Future, a new white paper from Edison International. The paper underscores the cost of inaction and states that collaboration among utilities, regulators and stakeholders must be increased. This document shares important findings from Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Climate Adaptation Vulnerability Assessment (CAVA), which studied impacts to the utility’s assets, operations and services from climate hazards, including temperature, precipitation, flood, drought, wildfire and sea level rise. The findings anticipate that by 2050:

  • 24% of SCE’s transmission circuits and subtransmission circuits will be exposed and sensitive to heightened levels of extreme temperature; the increased temperature is expected to decrease line capacity by 10% to 20%.
  • 23% of transmission substations are vulnerable to 100-year flooding exposure or sea level rise, and a subset of transmission substations may be exposed to severe inland flooding that could put the transmission system at heightened risk of widespread outages.
  • Protracted drought conditions could limit available hydroelectric resources; a future 20-year drought (megadrought) or continuation of the current, worst regional drought in history could result in SCE’s hydroelectric generation from Big Creek being nearly 24% lower than historical averages.

Addressing some of the risks assessed in CAVA will require working together with multiple public and private stakeholders. This will be the most effective way to minimize societal costs and maximize public benefits in addressing interrelated climate adaptation issues. The Climate Leadership Conference is an opportunity to establish a common language to assess risks; provide clear frameworks to apply climate projections locally across regions, sectors and hazards; and initiate discussion about broader resource planning for critical infrastructures like water, wastewater, fuel supplies and transportation corridors.

It is important for the U.S. to meet its UN Nationally Determined Contribution goal of 50%-52% economywide emissions reduction by 2030. California put itself on the hook to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2045. Southern California Edison released a policy paper called Pathway 2045 that concludes the most affordable way to reach California’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals is through economywide electrification. That will require a near-complete transformation of how the state sources and uses energy across all sectors of the economy. 

While adaptation and other actions may require additional funding, the cost of inaction would be even greater both in financial terms and for the safety and health of our communities. 

We can change design criteria now, so the equipment we install today is ready for the conditions we’re predicting for tomorrow. This seed can bear fruit, and we can minimize the impact on our customers and our communities in the future by getting ready today.