Climate change poses a threat to the Iowa power grid. Scientists now call for infrastructure investment

Iowa needs targeted investments to strengthen and expand its power grid, to prepare for an increase in extreme weather events fueled by climate change. That’s the recommendation of Iowa’s latest climate statement, which was released Wednesday by a coalition of some 223 scientists and researchers from 34 Iowa colleges and universities.

Researchers say regulators and heads of state don’t have to look beyond the devastating effects of last year’s derecho to see clear vulnerabilities in Iowa’s electrical infrastructure.

The derecho, which produced winds comparable to those of a powerful Category 4 hurricane, cut power to more than 500,000 homes, leaving some in the dark for two weeks.

Massive power outages have resulted in near total blackouts in some areas, crippling local governments and leaving the most vulnerable without air conditioning or refrigeration, and compromising their access to fresh food and vital medical supplies like insulin and oxygen.

“Socio-economically disadvantaged people are the most affected by the increase in heat and humidity, intense rainfall, power outages and flooding that we are currently experiencing. And that will only get worse without climate action, ”said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. “We need to protect the vulnerable and preserve the future of our entire community. “

The derecho made it clear the need to secure the power supply to essential resources such as grocery stores, water infrastructure and community centers. In the aftermath of the storm, the city of Belle Plaine hastened to obtain a generator to ensure the proper functioning of its water. Authorities in Cedar Rapids have opened a dedicated shelter for residents to charge their medical equipment.

“Each of the recently growing number of unprecedented weather extremes, such as derecho in Iowa, extreme frost in Texas, and wildfires in the western United States have revealed disturbing new challenges to the reliability of the power grid, ”said Gene Takle, professor emeritus of Agronomy at Iowa State University.

“Gradual improvements over past experience have not prepared us for our 21st century vulnerability to the scale of destruction and societal consequences of climate change on the electricity production and distribution system,” said he added.

Much of Iowa’s electrical infrastructure was not designed for the extreme conditions the state is likely to experience, according to Jim McCalley, professor of electrical systems engineering at Iowa State University. A lack of preparedness in Texas proved to be deadly when historically cold temperatures brought some of the state’s oil wells to a standstill and cut off power generation. He says Iowa should act now to avert a similar catastrophe.

“We need to reduce the impact and increase the speed of restoration and recovery during extreme events,” said Jim McCalley, professor of electrical systems engineering at Iowa State University. “This requires diversification in our modes of supplying electricity. This means, for example, deploying micro-grids for loads providing critical services such as hospitals and grocery stores. “

The authors of the climate statement focus on a few key recommendations: strengthening key infrastructure by increasing the structural resilience of transmission and distribution lines and underground lines where flooding is not a risk, and diversifying the supply of electricity. electricity by adding micro-grids, developing generation technology, and increasing transmission lines.

Grid strengthening will also allow for greater wind and solar development, which McCalley says is a critical step in quickly achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

“The transport capacity we currently have is insufficient to develop the resources we need to achieve zero carbon. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact, ”said McCalley. “At the end of the day, if we’re going to get to the point of minimizing the effects of climate change and decarbonizing our infrastructure, that’s a step I think we really don’t have a choice on.”

The authors of the climate statement are calling on members of the public and heads of state to push the Iowa Utilities Board, utilities and municipalities to invest.

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