Cover: Extreme Weather and Climate Hazard Impacts on Energy and Water Utilities

Extreme Weather and Climate Hazard Impacts on Energy and Water Utilities

Implications for Department of the Air Force Installation Climate Resilience Planning

Published Mar 26, 2024

by Kristin Van Abel, Abbie Tingstad, Rahim Ali, Christy Foran, Beth E. Lachman, Vanessa Wolf, Hye Min Park, Joshua Steier, Brian Wong

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Research Questions

  1. How can the DAF use information about potential commercial utility system exposure to extreme weather- and climate-related effects in setting priorities for installation-focused deep-dive vulnerability assessments?
  2. What attributes of energy and water utility systems influence the systems' relative sensitivity and potential vulnerability to extreme weather- and climate-related effects?

A basic first step in improving the resilience of military installation infrastructure is understanding potential infrastructure exposure to extreme weather- and climate-related effects. RAND Project AIR FORCE was asked to develop an approach for estimating utility system exposure to extreme weather- and climate-related hazards for the purpose of informing at which installations the Department of the Air Force (DAF) might consider prioritizing deep-dive vulnerability assessments. Previous efforts to understand the implications of climate change have focused on installations; in this report, the researchers focused on utility infrastructures that are outside the fence line.

The researchers used case studies, supported by qualitative and quantitative analysis, to demonstrate their hazard exposure approach, which characterizes the historical and, where possible, potential future exposure of energy and water utility systems supporting DAF installations. The researchers focused on a select set of extreme weather- and climate-related effects for three regions: the mid-Atlantic, the Southwest, and Alaska. In their analysis, the researchers consider the local and regional regulatory environment and demonstrate an approach that estimates the relative resilience capacity of utility systems in these regions using a set of indicators.

Key Findings

  • Climate hazards are predictably different in various parts of the United States; however, the geographic extent of utility networks means that it is possible for geographically distant hazards from the installation to have impact (although, in some cases, a geographically distributed utility supply chain can also be more resilient).
  • All energy and water utilities are directly and indirectly exposed to extreme weather- and climate-related effects at every point along the system; however, these effects do not impact all utility system components uniformly. The location of assets, the system configuration, and the condition of infrastructure can influence infrastructure sensitivity and potential vulnerability to climate hazards. Additionally, the regulatory environment, state and local policies, and utility investment decisions are important to consider alongside physical attributes in determining potential vulnerabilities in utility systems that support DAF installations.
  • The availability and accessibility of data to measure climate variables and their changes in a standardized way across utility systems are limited. But understanding the hazards faced in a region and how well resilience planning is addressing these hazards sets up a logical approach for prioritizing vulnerability assessments based on mission. Thus, an analytic approach that combines quantitative data and qualitative insights is valuable.
  • Measuring utility system exposure can be resource-intensive; however, taken in combination, climate anomaly data (or other relevant accessible exposure metrics) and historical utility service reliability data can be used as low-cost initial screens to determine the relevance of utility system exposure information to the decision context at hand.

Recommendations

  • Update resilience policy to include a regional screening–level assessment of energy and water utility system potential exposure to climate hazards to determine relevance to priority-setting decision contexts.
  • Use a qualitative climate hazard taxonomy, accessible climate anomaly data, and utility reliability measures to obtain a first-order estimation of utility system exposure.
  • Articulate data and tool needs and strengthen partnerships to help access tools that track utility resilience measures.
  • Maintain an archive of relevant weather and climate data, tools, and products that support climate hazard exposure assessments.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety, and Infrastructure and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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