Critical infrastructure — like energy and utilities — is becoming more fragile in a tech-driven society influenced by climate change. Frequent natural disasters and erratic weather patterns jeopardize the functionality and safety of fossil fuel power, but is the same true for up-and-coming renewable energy plants? Setting expectations for a clean energy future requires humanity to assess energy infrastructure’s resilience against everything nature throws at it.
Natural Disasters and an Evolving Grid
Most energy infrastructure worldwide is in a liminal state. Much of it is antiquated tech that needs oil or natural gas to power it, or wear and tear has degraded it over time. Earthquakes and hurricanes easily uproot oil pipelines, and mudslides tear through nearshore rigs. Harsh storms and uncharacteristic climates put even more pressure on old and new energy systems.
Consider all the existing transmission lines and energy storage systems that need compatibility with new energy generation methods and power quantities. Nations like the UK are investing £54 billion in infrastructure development to facilitate an influx of wind power to their national grid — most of it is replacing old wiring to carry more power without residual losses.
Grid modernization makes energy systems vulnerable. Natural disaster protection must be more consistent in energy infrastructure and large-scale upgrades open up more disruptions.
The most prominent impact natural disasters could have on the grid is delaying progress because of environmental destruction, or obstacles that increase workloads or hinder advancement. However, energy infrastructure is becoming more aware of its volatility and installing solutions to kick energy systems back online in case of a disaster, resorting to energy backups. Renewables focus on these kinds of contingencies.
Energy Infrastructure and Climate Resilience
It is essential to know building up to 100% clean energy worldwide will take more time because of climate challenges. During this development, the sector must work relentlessly to find ways to better designs and adjust materials to make them sturdier against the weather. It also requires other measures outside of energy infrastructure, including flood mitigation barriers or elevation mediums. What does that look like now and how could it look in the future?
Solar panels and related storage are becoming one of the most commercially accessible and viable options for clean energy. The rise in battery storage could correlate with increased natural disasters as households want to secure protection. Their popularity forced regulatory bodies to create standards and tests regarding their strength against the elements, especially when rooftop placement makes them vulnerable. Ground-level panels can struggle with floods damaging inverters, while rooftop installations have high winds that could knock them off.
The National Electrical Code, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Electrotechnical Commission set standards for panels that include hail protection and fire codes. Sector experts also experimented with innovations like casing and coatings to increase defenses. What natural disasters will continue to do is force these compliance outfits to update constantly as solar panel composition evolves and disasters hit them differently.
The most intense weather events wind farms engage with are high winds, wildfires and storms. Fortunately, the impact of natural disasters on wind power has made people engineer them so one turbine will not turn off the rest. Engineering like this is a productive model for other energy generation methods.
Additionally, experts seek to optimize off- and nearshore wind farms, as they are susceptible to fewer natural disasters. However, they must be more firmly grounded and constantly withstand wear and tear from water battering. Alternative design and tethering methods are bringing wind into its most incredible age of resilience.
Geothermal plants are enormous operations. Though they derive power from the Earth’s underground heat, they do not disrupt the planet as much as other energy sources. It means moving to geothermal plants could trigger fewer seismic waves because of reduced drilling. However, this does not mean geothermal is without seismicity, as they extract water.
Research accentuates how these more minor tremors are productive in mitigating future natural disasters. In the meantime, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions could reduce a plant’s efficiency in balancing helpful and harmful energy containment, potentially delaying an increase in the energy form’s reputation and adoption.
Energy’s Stand Against Nature
Natural disasters impact energy infrastructure in numerous ways, from obtaining buy-in from the public to destroying fossil fuel cornerstones. It forces early adopters of renewables to see technology constantly evolving with climate patterns. They must look outside weather trends and prepare infrastructure for the wild and destructive until the adverse effects of climate change have time to reduce.