Southern California Edison Files State's First Climate Adaptation Vulnerability Assessment

Utility worker in hard hat and bright orange vest holding clip board with utility poles in the background

July 14, 2022

California rulemaking requires energy utilities to file vulnerability assessments focused on climate risks & mitigation options every four years

Southern California Edison recently became the state's first utility to file a climate adaptation vulnerability assessment for their service territory in Southern California. With assistance from Exponent, the utility performed a quantitative vulnerability assessment of their transmission, distribution, and substation assets and submitted their study to California's Public Utilities Commission on May 13, 2022.

SCE commissioned the study in response to California Rulemaking (R) 18-04-19, which requires that utilities plan and prepare for increased operational risks from wildfires, extreme heat, extreme storms, drought, subsidence, sea level rise, and other climate change related hazards. As specified in "Decision on Energy Utility Climate Change Vulnerability," investor-owned utilities are required to perform vulnerability assessments focused on climate risks to operations and provide short-term and long-term mitigation options every four years, aligned to their rate case cycles, with an outlook of 20-30 years.

Key to the rulemaking, which passed in August 2020, is answering two questions that are critical to California's future: "(1) how should the energy utilities we regulate assess and adapt to California's vulnerabilities caused by climate change, and (2) how should the utilities engage with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities on climate adaptation related to the utilities' infrastructure, operations and services so these communities are not left behind the rest of the state."

To help accomplish this, Exponent developed a first-of-its-kind rigorous performance-based engineering framework that quantifies climate change risk to hundreds of utility assets in SCE's spatially distributed system. Exponent quantitatively considered the effects of climate change hazards from two perspectives simultaneously: (1) changes in demands placed on assets due to the non-stationary nature of climate hazards and (2) changes in the capacity of assets to resist loads due to climate change related deterioration. By quantifying the vulnerability of climate hazards, the framework provides insights into different risk and failure scenarios that are worsening due to climate change, enabling SCE to prioritize investments and make risk-informed decisions.

SCE's John Dai, civil engineer in the utility's Asset Strategy & Planning division and manager of the climate adaptation vulnerability assessment project, stated "Exponent's state-of-the-art technical vulnerability assessment sets a high bar and roadmap for other California utilities, who will be required to perform a similar type of assessment in the next few years."

How Exponent Can Help

Exponent has extensive experience in the areas necessary to perform a successful vulnerability assessment including:

Equipment failure analysis and testing: Exponent has performed significant work to investigate and study equipment failures with electric transmission and distribution systems, including recent reviews of overhead and underground equipment failures, major substation outage and fires, and tower failures. Additionally, Exponent staff have been involved in many system reliability and resilience studies to support electric utility operations.

Risk analyses and assessments: Exponent has performed risk analyses for utility clients as well as clients in many industries. Our experience provides a deep understanding of how to identify risks, assess risk prioritization, and develop effective mitigations. Exponent has assisted utilities in the development of an engineering framework for quantifying the risk of failure for structures and components subject to the hot, dry, windy conditions associated with wildfire ignitions.

Climate-related factors and extreme weather events: Many of Exponent's assignments are driven by natural events such as wildfires, flooding, and wind damage from hurricanes. The potential threats and realities of these events have led us to conduct studies of asset integrity, failure investigations, and human and ecological risks and consequence of chemical releases to air, water, and groundwater.

Exponent's asset integrity management team works with utilities and industrial clients to safeguard their operations and minimize liabilities through proactive, data-driven strategies. Our quantitative, risk-based operability assessments accurately evaluate asset performance to enable real-time decisions that protect customers and communities.