Pathways to more resilient power systems

Pathways to more resilient power systems
Mar 19, 2024

Study highlights factors that could reduce climate risk


Climate impacts on thermal and renewable electricity supply, demand and infrastructure—from raised temperatures to altered wind patterns to extreme events—threaten grid performance and resilience. To assess this year-round threat, researchers evaluate how projected future climate could affect annual power production and demand in the central U.S. under a range of scenarios of how the power sector might evolve through midcentury. For each scenario, sub-region and power-system component, they determine a “potential supply gap” due to these climate-driven effects. The potential supply gap measures the combination of climate-driven supply losses and demand increases as a percentage of the electricity generation projected in the absence of climate considerations. This analysis employs a multi-sector dynamics perspective, considering interconnected, co-evolving interactions among human and natural systems at varying geographic scales under a range of scenarios of how the power sector might evolve through midcentury.


This study highlights key factors that impact electric power system resilience and performance, and provides decision-makers with a first step toward incorporating climate risk in power grid design and management. By estimating compounding effects of climate change on the electricity system, the potential supply gap metric can alert decision-makers to potential challenges from changing climate and how different power sector evolutions vary in terms of vulnerability.


As climate change continues to raise the global average surface temperature, and demand for electricity along with it, are power grids across America up to the task? A new study by researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change examines the potential impact of climate change on the resilience of the power system in the central U.S., comprised of states that encompass the Mississippi River Basin. In this region, thermal power generation systems (coal, gas and nuclear) are the primary sources of electricity (68 percent in 2020), with renewables (wind, solar and hydropower) gaining ground. Applying a multi-sector dynamics perspective in assessing four electricity sector scenarios, the researchers find that potential annual supply gaps range from 5 percent in one sub-region under mild changes in climate, to 21 percent in another sub-region under more severe climate change (and larger climate impacts on energy demand and thermal power generation). The study shows that the size of a potential supply gap depends more on increases in electricity demand than stresses on power generation, with greater resilience when the share of renewable power is higher. This preliminary investigation quantifies annual supply gaps. Further work is needed to quantify the effects of shorter-term extreme events, particularly extreme heat in summer months during which high electricity demand combined with compounding supply shocks in several power generation technologies can potentially cause a “perfect storm” leading to power system failures.



Angelo Gurgel




Sectoral Interactions, Compounding Influences and Stressors, and Compound Systems: Understanding Tipping Points and Non-Linear Dynamics


Assessing Compounding Climate-Related Stresses and Development Pathways on the Power Sector in the Central U.S.

Gurgel, Angelo, John Reilly, Jennifer Morris, C. Adam Schlosser, Xiang Gao, Mei Yuan, Karen Tapia-Ahumada, 2024. “Assessing Compounding Climate-Related Stresses and Development Pathways on the Power Sector in the Central U.S.” Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 29(27) (doi: 10.1007/s11027-024-10119-3)


Photo: Illinois Wind Farm (Source: Flickr/Tom Shockey)


Associated Joint Program People: 

Angelo Gurgel

John Reilly

Jennifer Morris

C. Adam Schlosser

Xiang Gao

Mei Yuan

Karen Tapia-Ahumada

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Associated Joint Program People: