Electric Utility Leverages Argonne Supercomputing for Climate Planning

By Oliver Peckham

January 19, 2023

Traditional utility planning based on more or less stable seasons year-over-year isn’t cutting it any more – and supercomputing is key to helping utilities adapt to our warmer world. Commonwealth Edison (ComEd for short) is Illinois’ largest power provider, covering all of Chicago and much of the rest of northern Illinois. In the course of planning for the coming decades, ComEd – in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Climate Resilience and Decision Science (CCRDS) – recently published a planning report titled ​“ComEd Climate Risk and Adaptation Outlook, Phase 1: Temperature, Heat Index, and Average Wind” that used climate projections run on Argonne Supercomputers.

The report looked at projected climate changes from a historical baseline (1995-2004) into the midcentury (2045-2054) to understand how those changes would affect ComEd’s distribution grid. Doing that meant leveraging advanced, high-resolution climate projections provided by the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF). At the ALCF, researchers dynamically downscale low-resolution (~100km grid) climate models to a 12km grid – much more useful for an electric utility like ComEd that might be interested in looking at the impacts to a specific customer base. Argonne also says that its forthcoming models will approach a 4km grid, allowing ComEd to perform neighborhood-level analysis.

Projected temperature changes in ComEd’s service territory between the baseline period and the midcentury period. Image courtesy of the researchers.

Those precise projections also allowed the ComEd/Argonne researchers to compare the projected future climates for towns in Illinois to real climates elsewhere in the country, helping the utility to understand the stressors that it might face in similar circumstances.

“Weather more typical of Saint Louis or Louisville will be more common in northern Illinois by mid-century,” said Jordan Branham, a senior climate risk and resilience analyst in Argonne’s Decision and Infrastructure Sciences division, in an interview with Argonne’s Kristen Mally Dean. ​“Days when the average temperature exceeds 93- or 94-degrees Fahrenheit will be a more annual occurrence, and higher nighttime temperatures will offer less relief during a heat wave. This could result in lots of air conditioners running at high speed simultaneously, which could stress and overtax the power grid.”

“The collaboration between Argonne and ComEd is a great example of the value our national laboratories provide to industry and communities,” Branham added. ​“ComEd has been an engaged partner that wants to ensure its grid is resilient to climate change and reliably serves communities for decades.”

This report – the first to be made publicly available by CCRDS – is just the beginning. The second phase of the ComEd/Argonne collaboration is already underway and is aimed at variables like flooding and lightning. To learn more about the collaboration, read the reporting from Argonne’s Kristen Mally Dean here. You can read the first ComEd/Argonne report here.

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