Con Edison climate study: Flooding, heat waves will strain grid

Extreme heat, coastal storm surge, inland flooding and more violent storms are the most significant climate-driven impacts to Con Edison’s energy delivery systems and its customers through the 21st century, according to a report issued today.

The report, developed by Con Edison in collaboration with ICF and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, leverages the latest available climate science data. The study evaluated present-day infrastructure, design specifications, and procedures against expected climate change to better understand its future impact on Con Edison’s energy delivery systems.

The company’s electric, gas and steam systems are all subject to increased flooding from coastal storms, while the electric system is also challenged during periods of sustained heat.

Among the study’s findings is an increase in days when the heat index will reach or exceed 103 degrees, from two days a year now to anywhere from seven to 26 days a year by 2050.

The 36-month study, authorized by the New York State Public Service Commission (NYPSC) as part of a collaborative created after Superstorm Sandy, describes historical and projected climate changes across Con Edison’s service area in New York City and Westchester County.

“We recognize the global scientific consensus that climate change is occurring at an accelerating rate,” said Tim Cawley, president of Con Edison. “While climate change’s exact pace and effects are uncertain, the study provides a strong foundation upon which to plan, design, and invest in our energy delivery systems to better protect them and serve our customers.”

To account for climate uncertainty, the study considered a range of potential climate futures reflecting both unabated and reduced greenhouse gas concentrations through time and evaluated extreme “stress test” scenarios.

The analysis identified the following most significant climate-driven risks to Con Edison’s systems:

  • Sea level rise
  • Coastal storm surge
  • Inland flooding from intense rainfall
  • Hurricane-strength winds
  • Extreme heat

While Con Edison already uses a range of measures to build resilience to weather events, the vulnerabilities identified in the study will guide the company’s future strategy to strengthen its reliability and resilience against increasingly harsh weather.

The report estimates the company might need to invest between $1.8 billion and $5.2 billion by 2050 on targeted programs to protect its electric, gas and steam delivery systems and customers from the impacts of climate change. Con Edison will further evaluate future adaptation strategies and associated costs through the development of 5-, 10- and 20-year plans. Con Edison typically invests approximately $3 billion every year on its energy infrastructure.

Con Edison has been aggressive in upgrading its electric, gas and steam systems against severe weather. Following Superstorm Sandy, the company invested $1 billion over four years to protect its systems. After a pair of severe storms struck in quick succession in March 2018, Con Edison coordinated with Westchester County to spend an additional $100 million to fortify the electric delivery system in the areas that suffered the most devastation.

While the study assessed vulnerabilities within Con Edison’s present-day systems to a future climate, an implementation plan must also consider the evolving market for energy services and potential changes to services and infrastructure driven by customers, government policy and external actions over time.

As a next step from the study, Con Edison will develop a detailed Climate Change Implementation Plan by the end of 2020 to operationalize the recommendations from this Climate Change Vulnerability Study. The Implementation Plan will consider updates in climate science; finalize an initial climate design pathway; integrate that pathway into agency specifications and processes based on input from subject matter experts; develop a timeline for action with associated costs and signposts; and recommend a governance structure. Similar to this study, the company will engage a stakeholder group for input on scope and to provide updates on a quarterly basis.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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