Smart grid electricity system planning and climate disruptions: A review of climate and energy discourse post-Superstorm Sandy

Research paper by Andrea M.Feldpausch-Parkera, Tarla RaiPetersonb, Jennie C.Stephensc, Elizabeth J.Wilsond

Indexed on: 06 Nov '17Published on: 01 Jun '17Published in: Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews


Superstorm Sandy hit the northeastern United States in October 2012, knocking out power to 10 million people and highlighting energy and critical infrastructure system vulnerabilities in the face of a changing climate. The increased frequency and intensity of such disruptive events is shifting priorities in electricity system planning around the world, including how multiple stakeholders consider linkages between climate vulnerability and energy. This research links smart grid development with adaptation to changing climates and explores how different stakeholders grapple with system vulnerabilities and climate disruptions. To illustrate this, the in-depth case study assesses post-Sandy discourse to compare how electricity sector stakeholder groups in New York, Massachusetts and Vermont associate energy, smart grid, and climate change. To explore how different energy system stakeholders frame the impacts of Superstorm Sandy on energy system planning, we conducted 22 focus groups with a broad range of organizations representing diverse aspects of the electricity system including utilities, regulatory authorities, research and development agencies, regional transmission organizations, academic research institutions, consumer advocacy and environmental organizations across the three states. We used these data to examine post-Sandy discourse about climate mitigation and climate adaptation, routine system management, and the potential value of “smart grid” for future energy system planning. We found that both New York and Massachusetts stakeholders focused more on climate adaptation than climate mitigation, while stakeholders in Vermont focused more on mitigation. In all three states stakeholder discussions of adaptation focused most heavily on system resilience and reliability, whereas discussions of mitigation focused on demand-side management and demand response followed by alternative energy strategies. These results suggest that extreme weather and climate disruptions will differentially shape discourse around smart grid and energy system change and shift the focus among energy system stakeholders on climate adaptation compared to climate mitigation. This research demonstrates variation between political jurisdictions (states) and energy system stakeholders in energy system planning in the face of new challenges related to an uncertain and rapidly changing world.