Powering Strong Communities

California researchers to develop fine-tuned climate modeling for utility planners

With input from utilities, researchers in California plan to develop fine-tuned climate projections to help decision-makers bolster the grid in the face of weather-related challenges.

The California Energy Commission on Jan. 25 awarded $1.5 million to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and other parts of the University of California system to develop next-generation “downscaled” climate projections.

The five-year project aims to provide detailed projections for the rest of this century across California’s varied landscape covering temperature, precipitation, wind, humidity, snowpack, runoff, streamflow and sea level rise.

The new computer simulations will be able to provide landscape detail at a 3-kilometer, or 1.9 mile, resolution compared with a 6-kilometer, or 3.7 mile, resolution. Based on utility needs, the project will develop hourly projections for various factors compared to daily estimates.

“With that sort of information, utilities will be able to better assess future impacts, including both long term changes and high impact extreme events,” Scripps climate scientist Dan Cayan said.

The project will provide California utilities and other stakeholders with one of the worlds most comprehensive, high resolution climate data sets, according to a summary of the project written for the CEC.

“This project provides the climate projections that California [investor owned utilities] and other stakeholders need to plan and adapt to such changes,” the summary said.

The model, for example, will more finely track the inland extent of the Pacific marine layer that provides natural air conditioning to the states coastal residents, and to delineate changes in the elevation where rain transitions to snow, which has traditionally supplied much of Californias summer water resources, according to Scripps.

The project will also produce data that can support the state’s fifth climate change assessment, which will be developed by state agencies, including the CEC.

The project’s data can also be used in studies on agriculture, ecosystems, human health, water management, infrastructure planning, energy demand and wildfire threats, according to the summary.

Based on IOU and other stakeholder input, the project aims to identify and downscale targeted climate extremes to assess future climate-driven hazards.

Among other things, the project will assess how climate change will affect electricity supply and demand as well as infrastructure, hazards and utility customers.

“The downscaled climate projections provide information to the IOUs and broader energy sector about how climate change may impact energy demand and supply based on changes in temperature, humidity, winds, and streamflow (hydroelectric),” the summary said.

The researchers will analyze how fire weather conditions will change in frequency and intensity, enabling the utilities to prepare for the changes, according to the summary.

Hydrological modeling and hourly sea levels developed from the downscaling will provide information on future flooding frequency that could damage infrastructure.

“This project provides the climate projections that California IOUs and other stakeholders need to plan and adapt to such changes,” the summary said.