Temperatures in the New York City region are rising quickly due to climate change, meaning Con Edison must accelerate its investments to keep electric service reliable and resilient for customers, according to Con Edison’s 2023 Climate Change Vulnerability Study.
The findings have significant implications for Con Edison’s electric delivery system because heat and humidity drive up customers’ air conditioning needs, placing a strain on the company’s equipment.
By 2030, New York City will experience up to 17 days a year with temperatures of 95 degrees or higher, the study projects, up from four days a year historically. New Yorkers will experience up to 27 such days by 2040 and up to 32 such days by 2050, according to the study.
“This most recent study provides alarming evidence that climate change will affect the lives of New Yorkers sooner and more severely than had previously thought,” said Tim Cawley, the chairman and chief executive of Con Edison. “That’s why Con Edison is thinking more boldly about ways to strengthen the reliability of our electric delivery system. We are ushering in new sources of renewable energy and making sure that every New Yorker can share in the benefits of a more sustainable grid.”
“This study shows Con Edison’s commitment to staying abreast of the latest climate science and to relying on leading experts,” said Michael Gerrard, professor at Columbia University Law School and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “The company is taking a leading role among energy companies in making investments to ensure continued reliable service in the face of escalating climate change.”
Con Edison’s latest study uses climate change projections developed by Columbia University and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The study, which Con Edison produced with support from ICF International, updates the projections in the company’s first-of-its-kind 2019 study.
Con Edison filed the study with the New York State Public Service Commission today. The company later this year will file a report on the measures it will have to take to protect its equipment and customers in New York City and Westchester County from the rising temperatures and other climate change impacts.
While the 2019 study predicted a dramatic increase in the number of hot days, the new study accelerates the predicted timetable by a decade.
The first study forecast that by 2030 there would be 11 days a year when the temperature in Central Park exceeds 95 degrees, increasing to 18 days by 2040 and 23 days a decade later.
Climate change, which the new study calls “an existential and multi-faceted threat around the world,” will affect Con Edison customers and equipment in other ways, the company said.
- The risk of flooding, which can damage underground electric delivery equipment, will increase, as sea levels rise 16 inches by 2050 and New York experiences five days a year with precipitation exceeding 2 inches. The historical norm is three days per year.
- The annual maximum wind speed in New York City could reach 60 miles per hour in 10 to 15 years, compared to about 50 miles per hour on a historical basis. Strong winds can knock trees and branches onto overhead delivery equipment, causing customers to lose power.
- The risk of ice forming on overhead power lines and trees will increase. That impact can cause outages.
- Hurricanes could be more intense and more likely to track toward the Northeast.
In addition, Nor’easters and cold snaps could be less frequent, but more intense when they do occur. Torrential downpours could be more frequent and intense.
Climate change is likely to drive stronger and more frequent storms in the New York City region, bringing heavier rainfall and coastal storm surge. Hurricane Ida in 2021 brought more than seven inches of rainfall in Central Park and resulted in flooding across the city.
Hurricane Sandy, the worst storm in New York City’s recorded history, caused floodwaters to overrun underground electric delivery equipment, knocking out power on the East Side of Manhattan from 40th Street south and on the West Side from 30th Street south.
But the most striking change in the latest Con Edison study is in the predictions about heat.
The urban heat island effect adds to the challenge of extreme heat in New York City. The rooftops and pavement that characterize city landscapes retain heat, meaning higher temperatures, particularly at night.
The higher night-time temperatures result in air conditioners working harder to cool homes and businesses. That means the underground delivery equipment does not cool off as much overnight during heat waves.
Higher temperatures can decrease the capacity of cable, substation transformers and other equipment, meaning Con Edison has to invest to replace that lost capacity. The heat can also cause the demand for power to exceed the system’s capacity.
Con Edison recognizes that disadvantaged communities have fewer alternatives during outages, meaning they suffer greater effects from flooding and heat. Con Edison will consider how climate change affects these areas and incorporate that consideration into its reliability and resiliency investment plans.
The company has been fortifying its vast electric delivery system for years, but climate change is prompting the company to accelerate the planning and execution of upgrades.
The company invested $1 billion in its energy systems over four years following Sandy. After two March 2018 storms caused severe damage, the company invested another $100 million in Westchester County. The company’s analysis shows the investments since Sandy have prevented more than a million customer outages.
While investing to fortify its infrastructure, the company is leading the region’s transition to a clean energy future. Con Edison works with customers to help them complete rooftop solar projects, adopt heat pumps and reduce their usage through efficiency.
The company makes clear in its Clean Energy Commitment that it supports the environmental goals of New York City and State and is building a grid to carry 100 percent clean energy by 2040.
Just in 2023, Con Edison has announced the completion of an important transmission project in Queens, enabling the retirement of an inefficient fossil fuel plant, and the start of construction of a Clean Energy Hub in Brooklyn. Both these projects will carry offshore wind power that the state is adding to its portfolio.