Climate Change Requires Adaptation and Mitigation ― Now
By Pedro J. Pizarro, President and CEO, Edison International
As one of the largest electricity suppliers in the U.S. seeking to address the urgent need for climate investments, Edison International is joining World Climate Summit – the Investment COP in 2022, which is aimed to unite stakeholders from key industries and policymakers to accumulate finances and efforts for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Drew Murphy, Senior Vice President of Strategy, Corporate Development and Sustainability for Edison International will speak at the Session “Galvanising Concerted Global Action – Accelerating Collaboration for Climate Ambition Across Sectors” on 13 November.
The impacts of climate change at a glance
In California, where Edison International is located and our utility subsidiary, Southern California Edison (SCE), serves 15 million people, wildfires are the starkest example of the climate change-related threat facing local communities. Twelve of the 20 largest wildfires in state history occurred in the last five years. Moreover, analysis from UCLA and the University of Chicago revealed that in addition to endangering life and property wildfires also erased 16 years of California’s greenhouse gas emission cuts. While SCE continues to invest significant resources in wildfire mitigation efforts, strategies must now include adaptation to the impacts of climate change.
In early September 2022, the Western U.S. experienced the type of extreme heat that could become more common when a heat dome brought record high temperatures and the demand on the grid in California reached its highest peak ever. Moreover, the Southwest U.S. is suffering through its worst drought in 1,200 years, and the three-year period beginning October 2019 is the driest such stretch in recorded California history. The state estimates sustained drought conditions could reduce California’s water supplies by 10% over the next 20 years, which would restrict utilities’ ability to produce needed carbon-free hydropower.
Society must now reduce emissions at a much faster rate than ever before to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change.
The U.S. has pledged to meet its UN Nationally Determined Contribution goal of 50-52% economywide emissions reduction by 2030. Missing that target would make meeting future goals significantly more difficult and expensive. California put itself on the hook to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2045.
Adapting for Tomorrow through infrastructure modernisation
SCE ran an analysis of the most affordable way for the state to meet its climate goals. The resulting policy paper, Pathway 2045, concluded the most affordable approach is to decarbonise the electric grid, electrify buildings and transportation, use low-carbon fuels for hard-to-electrify sectors and sequester the remaining carbon. Doing so will require a near-complete transformation of how the state sources and uses energy across the entire economy.With more reliance on clean energy and storage technologies, we will also need to modernise the grid so it can meet changing demand while simultaneously providing greater resiliency to increased climate risks and cyberthreats.
“The original sharing economy wasn’t Uber or Airbnb. It was the electric grid. It was designed to share supply-side and demand-side resources and encourage greater utilisation of the capital investments we're making. That will require a grid that is more resilient to climate impacts, more reliable as demand increases and more adaptable to the ways energy is produced, stored and used across society.”
― Pedro J. Pizarro, President and CEO, Edison International
Although mitigation efforts are critical to stem climate change, significant impacts are already inevitable, so we must adapt. Today’s electric grid design standards and planning practices used throughout the industry are based on historical climate data. The energy industry must begin to incorporate projected climate conditions into electric system planning. Utility planning horizons need to be extended from the typical timeframe of 10 years or less to at least 20 years, so investments in the near term can help address climate risks in the long term. Changing design criteria now would mean the equipment being installed today is ready for the conditions we are predicting.
Modernising critical infrastructure that powers communities is among the findings of Adapting for Tomorrow: Powering a Resilient Future, a recent white paper from Edison International. The paper underscores the cost of inaction and emphasises that collaboration among utilities, regulators and stakeholders must be increased. Adapting for Tomorrow shares important findings from SCE’s Climate Adaptation Vulnerability Assessment (CAVA), which studied long-term impacts to the utility’s assets, operations and services from climate hazards, including temperature, precipitation, flood, drought, wildfire and sea level rise. The findings anticipate that by 2050:
A two- to three-foot projected average sea level would put infrastructure in some coastal areas at higher risk of flooding;
SCE’s service area could be up to seven times more likely to experience temperatures as hot as or hotter than the historical 99th percentile, which could decrease line capacity by 10%-20%;
Higher overnight temperatures would inhibit some equipment from cooling properly, reducing capacity and useful life, and increasing the need for repairs during high-heat events; and
New transmission lines will need to be built to bolster regional reliability with more severe wildfire conditions.
Cross-sector collaboration to address the risks assessed in CAVA is the most efficient way to minimise societal costs and maximise public benefits to address interrelated climate adaptation issues. Within the energy sector, Edison International is among the founding members of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Climate READi Initiative. This three-year REsilience and ADaptation initiative is creating an industrywide framework for electric system adaptation and resilience decisions and investments. More broadly, we must also initiate discussion about broader resource planning for critical infrastructures like water, wastewater, fuel supplies and transportation corridors.
Community engagement and collaboration as a key to adaptation
One way to improve climate resiliency is through community engagement and partnerships. Since 2019, Edison International has supported Climate Resolve’s Ready for Tomorrow program, which connects under-resourced communities in Southern California to climate planning research, funding and resources. The California Resilience Challenge, of which SCE was a founding member, awards grants to local governments, tribes and community-based organisations in underserved communities for climate adaptation projects that address wildfire, high heat, drought and flooding. Edison International also provides millions in shareholder-funded philanthropic support for organisations that plant trees to help keep cities cool; rebuild California’s parks, forests and other sensitive areas after erosion, extreme weather events and wildfires; as well as other nonprofits that address environmental challenges.
“The clean energy transition will not be successful unless it remains affordable for everyone. The analysis in Pathway 2045 shows that this new paradigm using high amounts of carbon-free resources, storage and economywide electrification will actually reduce the total cost of energy for customers ― including electricity, natural gas and gasoline ― by about one-third in real terms by 2045.”
― Pedro J. Pizarro, President and CEO, Edison International
Finally, as we think about long-term adaptation strategies, it’s important to engage our most vulnerable communities early and often in the process. California has long provided a blueprint to reach net-zero, and now the more recent support for local communities at a national scale is encouraging. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by Congress last year, targets funding around climate resilience and justice-oriented outcomes, helping drive investment to communities that are most at risk from climate impacts.
While addressing climate risks will require additional funding, the cost of inaction would be even greater, not only in financial terms but also for the safety and health of our population.The cost of not making investments now in climate change mitigation and adaptation will be multiplied as we face increasingly severe effects of climate change down the road. For this reason, this year’s World Climate Summit is a crucial point to achieving agreements and cross-sector collaboration for climate action.We can minimise the impact on our customers, communities and environment in the future by getting ready today.
About Edison International
Edison International (NYSE: EIX) is one of the nation’s largest electric utility holding companies, providing clean and reliable energy and energy services through its independent companies. Headquartered in Rosemead, California, Edison International is the parent company of Southern California Edison Company, a utility that delivers electricity to 15 million people across Southern, Central and Coastal California. Edison International is also the parent company of Edison Energy, a global energy advisory company delivering comprehensive, data-driven energy solutions to commercial and industrial users to meet their cost, sustainability and risk goals.
Learn more: www.edison.com
About the author
Pedro Pizarro is president and CEO as well as a director of Edison International, the parent company of electric utility Southern California Edison and global energy advisor Edison Energy. He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Caltech and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Harvard. Pizarro is a vice chair for the Edison Electric Institute and a board member of Electric Power Research Institute, Caltech and the Analysis and Resilience Center for Systemic Risk.