Argonne projects work to predict climate conditions by town so all can plan accordingly

Argonne projects aim to help utilities, communities plan

  • ComEd crews respond to severe weather in June 2022. The utility's joint study with Argonne found extreme weather events that pose challenges to building, managing and operating the electrical distribution grid will increase in frequency and intensity over time.

    ComEd crews respond to severe weather in June 2022. The utility's joint study with Argonne found extreme weather events that pose challenges to building, managing and operating the electrical distribution grid will increase in frequency and intensity over time. Courtesy of ComEd

  • Power lines are susceptible to severe weather events and higher temperatures. ComEd's climate risk study includes plans for infrastructure and operations changes to cope with increasing demand and decreasing capacity.

    Power lines are susceptible to severe weather events and higher temperatures. ComEd's climate risk study includes plans for infrastructure and operations changes to cope with increasing demand and decreasing capacity. Courtesy of ComEd

  • A ComEd power line was downed during severe weather in June 2022. ComEd officials said weather disasters, along with a rising awareness of the sensitivity of the grid to climate change, prompted the utility's joint study with Argonne.

    A ComEd power line was downed during severe weather in June 2022. ComEd officials said weather disasters, along with a rising awareness of the sensitivity of the grid to climate change, prompted the utility's joint study with Argonne. Courtesy of ComEd

  • Kyle Pfeiffer is director of Argonne's Center for Climate Resilience and Decision Science, which works with infrastructure owners and operators, power utilities, telecom companies and others to take climate information out of Argonne and apply it to models and decision-making. 

    Kyle Pfeiffer is director of Argonne's Center for Climate Resilience and Decision Science, which works with infrastructure owners and operators, power utilities, telecom companies and others to take climate information out of Argonne and apply it to models and decision-making.  Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

  • Thomas Wall, a program lead for Argonne Center for Climate Resilience, worked on the ClimRR data portal and the ComEd study. Wall's work aims to help companies and local governments plan to respond to climate change in the future.

    Thomas Wall, a program lead for Argonne Center for Climate Resilience, worked on the ClimRR data portal and the ComEd study. Wall's work aims to help companies and local governments plan to respond to climate change in the future. Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

 
Updated 1/16/2023 6:34 AM

We tend to talk about climate change as something that is happening on a global scale, but projects underway at DuPage County's Argonne National Laboratory can show you what the future climate will look like in your own town.

By giving you a glimpse into future conditions, from high humidity to increased precipitation, two Argonne's initiatives map out climate risks to help communities create plans that affect them specifically.

 

The projects come as studies suggest climate change increasingly is viewed as a local issue: One in three Americans reported they have been personally affected by an extreme weather event in the past two years, according to Gallup's 2022 environment poll.

Partnering with AT&T and ComEd, Argonne's Center for Climate Resilience and Decision Science builds on climate information from the lab's fleet of researchers and supercomputers.

One project in particular allows anyone in the country to type in the home address and receive climate projections for the surrounding area.

Argonne worked with AT&T as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency to create the mapping tool, called the Climate Risk & Resilience Portal, or ClimRR. Argonne spokesperson Dave Bukey said the tool was made to provide emergency managers and community leaders free access to localized data about future climate risks.

For example, in the area surrounding Arlington Heights where the Daily Herald is headquartered, ClimRR projects total annual precipitation will rise from a historical baseline of 30.50 inches to 32.93 inches by midcentury, which is the years 2045 to 2054.

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This projection is based on a scenario that emissions will peak around 2040 and then decline. But if greenhouse gases continue to rise unchecked throughout the 21st century, the tool projects a much more severe change to 37.27 annual inches.

Argonne's supercomputers that help power the portal and other climate projections are a key resource, computing 30 years of data for the future climate of four states in a matter of months.

For comparison, simulating just one year of future climate in the same four states would require more than 4,000 hours of computation time on a standard computer.

"Our climate science team at Argonne produces pretty cutting-edge climate modeling, and we apply that to infrastructure models and other sorts of decision instances so that a company, state or local government -- anyone who has a hand in infrastructure, communities and the built environment -- can start proactively planning today to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change in the future," said Thomas Wall, a program lead with the center.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Just as Argonne launched the ClimRR portal in November, it also published a joint study with ComEd that focuses on how changes in northern Illinois' climate might affect the power grid.

The study states the utility's service territory already experiences extreme weather events that pose challenges to building, managing and operating the electrical distribution grid -- but those events only will increase in frequency and intensity over time.

"ComEd will face hotter and longer summers with more consistent and extreme high temperatures, and warmer winters. Similarly, changes in humidity will equate to higher midcentury heat indexes, which can have physiological effects on individuals' capacity to cope with extreme heat, increasing the potential for public health and safety issues," the study states. "Given that higher temperatures also decrease the capacity of transmission and distribution lines, planning for infrastructure and operations investments to cope with increasing demand and decreasing relative capacity is paramount."

Altogether, Argonne's temperature, wind and heat index projections underscore a need to prepare for the impacts of significantly higher temperatures on grid capacity and demand, the study reports.

"In our industry, there's a rising awareness of the sensitivity of the grid to climate change. That comes through disasters, and it comes through the increasing prevalence of visible effects of climate change, because it's here and now," said Ryan Burg, a principal business analyst with ComEd.

Burg said ComEd will use the data to inform a range of engineering decisions, particularly when it comes to equipment -- almost all of its equipment is subject to thermal stresses.

A hotter climate also will affect the utility's everyday upkeep of its system, such as vegetation management. Sending crews to trim around power lines is an important aspect of system reliability, and a longer growing season means more resources needed in that area.

Alongside climate change, ComEd simultaneously is preparing for the effect decarbonization will have on the grid. That means as more and more people turn to electricity to power their cars and homes, the grid will be bearing an even larger load.

Both the AT&T and ComEd initiatives are ongoing. With the ClimRR portal still in its experimental stage, researchers hope to collect feedback and improve the tool as more community members test it.

Argonne's climate study with ComEd is entering Phase 2, which will expand the research scope to examine the impacts to flood risk and convection -- the weather phenomenon that causes severe storms with high winds and tornadoes.

• Jenny Whidden is a Report For America corps member covering climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.

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