Despite promises of improved infrastructure and better disaster preparedness, governments and energy giants are failing to provide backup energy provisions to areas hit hard by extreme weather conditions again and again. As these events are becoming more frequent and stronger, how will the energy industry prepare for the future of energy provision?
The ongoing discussion over energy infrastructure resilience which is brought up year after year peaked in February in the U.S. as Texas battled against a severe winter storm that saw the electrical grid shut down and thousands of buildings lose power. Many across the state had to rely on generators to heat their houses to escape freezing temperatures for up to a week.
A significant proportion of energy production in the U.S.’s biggest oil state came to a halt following the storm, having a knock-on effect on energy output levels for the rest of the spring. Oil production is thought to have dropped by around 1.2 million bpd due to freezing pipelines and a lack of electricity to key infrastructure.
But could all of this be avoided had the U.S. government and big oil invested in its aging infrastructure long ago? Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s energy infrastructure a C-rating score, suggesting the need for significant improvement to prevent future production cuts and potential disasters.
Since his inauguration, President Biden has pointed towards his $2 trillion infrastructure plan as the answer to the problem. As well as fixing tens of thousands of roads and bridges, enhancing the country’s transportation links, the plan also intends to improve energy infrastructure and water pipelines across the U.S. over a timescale of eight years.
In August, the budget for the infrastructure bill increased to $3.5 trillion as it narrowly passed in the Senate. As well as updating traditional energy infrastructure and transport links, the bill includes efforts to tackle climate change by funding electric vehicles, renewable power, and clean energy initiatives.
But as it goes to the House of Representatives, it is clear that Biden’s big plan will have to survive all the bureaucracy of U.S. politics before it can put into practice. Realistically, it could be years before we see any meaningful advances in U.S. energy infrastructure coming from this plan.
This has driven local powers to devise their own strategies for disaster preparedness when it comes to energy provision. In Texas, the Railroad Commission of Texas commissioners approved proposed rules for critical designation of natural gas infrastructure during energy emergencies this month.
The Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas also published a report in June entitled Never Again in response to the energy failure seen following the February storm. PUC calls upon several Texan energy authorities to work together to ‘winterize’ power plants and improve all areas of aging energy infrastructure that lead to the failure in energy provision when hit by harsh weather conditions. This call has been replicated in other U.S. states confronted with severe weather phenomena that lead to a reduction in energy production and a lack of energy provision to millions of Americans every year.
But it is not only the U.S. that is confronting an energy infrastructure emergency, it is estimated that it will require around $1 trillion in investment to prepare Canada’s energy infrastructure to resist against severe weather conditions. The Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development IISD published a report this summer that suggests around one-third of Canada’s core infrastructure is in poor condition and not resilient to the impacts of climate change.
The report highlights the impact that climate change, leading to severe weather events on a more regular basis, is having on energy provision. Aging infrastructure, not made to withstand freezing winters and summer heatwaves can simply not be relied upon to deliver vital energy to households in its current state. This is true in the U.S., Canada and several other parts of the world battling weather events such as heatwaves, winter storms, hurricanes, and monsoons.
As well as major countrywide infrastructure reinforcement plans, relying on majority political support and major funding, experts are now suggesting alternative responses to strengthen energy provision across the most affected areas. Proposals include ‘microgrids’, smaller power plants that would be able to operate independently of the main grid to provide energy to households and businesses during a weather event.
To conquer the effect of worsening weather events on energy infrastructure and provision, it is necessary to enlist both a top-down and bottom-up approach. While major national infrastructure plans are vital for securing the future of a country’s energy provision, local-level action is also needed. Individual cities and states can better understand the changing weather conditions in the local area and highlight the challenges to their energy infrastructure to better prepare for the future. Local governments will have to dedicate investment in studies and infrastructure reinforcement if they hope to avoid disasters in energy provision leading to deaths, such as those seen over the last year in Texas and California.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com