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by Jugal Bhatt, Project Officer, Energy Networks Australia

With El Nino and his tumultuous counterpart La Niña creating long dry summers and bushfires, followed by freak storms and flash flooding, Australians are learning to live with the disruption caused by climate change. Here, we look at how energy businesses are adapting to ensure their networks, customers and communities are more resilient to its effects.

Just before the beginning of the Australian summer in 2021, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) declared a La Niña event for eastern and northern Australia. La Niña summers are wetter than average, and conditions become favourable for tropical cyclones, but no two La Niña events are exactly alike.

Climate change adds to this complexity and it is predicted the impacts of La Niña will amplify over the coming decades. Based on the weather in Australia over the past several months, we are already starting to see this become a reality.

Storm season

After a notable heatwave leading up to this year’s Australia Day, Victoria was hit by severe storms that caused damage across the state leading to flash flooding and as many as 12,000 households losing power across the Citipower Powercor network.

Similarly, South-East Queensland experienced wild weather for several days with some regions receiving 50 to 100mm of rain. A severe thunderstorm impacted this region with more than 23,000 homes left without power in Brisbane and Logan. The storm also caused a tree to fall on to railway powerlines which caused public transport delays.

These sorts of freak storms are occurring more frequently. Just before Christmas 2021, Sydney’s Northern Beaches experienced a “mini-cyclone” that tore down powerlines and ripped off building roofs.

During such events, it is common to see electricity networks assist each other in disaster and recovery efforts. In New South Wales, Endeavour Energy helped Ausgrid restore supply to more than 30,000 customers following the Northern Beaches storm.

A guide on climate change for electricity networks

Energy Networks Australia (ENA) recently released an authoritative report that consolidates and presents the latest scientific information on climate change and its likely impacts on Australia’s electricity networks.

The report Electricity networks: A guide to climate change and its likely effects utilises the latest data and projections from preeminent sources such as the Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It will help the sector better understand the risks from climate change, conduct scenario planning, and communicate the likely impacts of climate change on networks with internal and external stakeholders.

Networks collaborating on resilience for the future

Six distribution network service providers (DNSPs) currently undergoing a regulatory reset have formed a joint working group to develop a unified and consistent position on climate change resilience.

The working group held a public forum in February 2022 to seek stakeholder views on how DNSPs can support the customers and communities they serve in adapting to a changing climate over the next ten years and beyond.

Customers and industry identified key areas of focus for DNSPs to progress, which include supporting local resilience planning and community education, utilising existing partnerships and improving communication and responsiveness during large-scale events.

As networks engage with their customers, one of the emerging trends is that most customers support more investment in hardening the network to build resilience.

Looking ahead

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) recently released a guidance note to assist NSPs, consumer groups and advocates understand how resilience related funding would be treated under the National Electricity Rules (NER).

While we know that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events will increase due to climate change, the AER recommends that networks have an optimal balance in their proposals between proactive and reactive funding for resilience.

Networks are now starting to think about how to strike that optimal balance and assessing the costs and benefits of proactive and reactive investment in network resilience. Resilience is a key priority for all networks going forward, and as the industry peak body, ENA is seeking to coordinate this effort and ensure we address this issue in a nationally consistent manner.

Featured image: Railway powerlines brought down by fallen trees in Woodridge, Queensland. Courtesy of Queensland Rail/ABC news)

©2022 Utility Magazine. All rights reserved

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