Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory

New effort by Argonne helps power utilities and others better plan for the future

May 9, 2017

If you're an electric utility planning a new power plant by a river, it would be nice to know what that river will look like 20 years down the road. Will it be so high that it might flood the new facility? Will the water be so low that it can't be used to cool the plant?

Generally, such projections have been based on records of past precipitation, temperature, flooding and other historical data. But in an era when temperature and precipitation are changing rapidly, historical patterns won't do you much good. A new Argonne initiative, drawing on the expertise of EVS climate scientists and environmental modelers, shows real promise in energy infrastructure planning and decision support. The initiative offers power utilities and other customers access to extremely localized climate models run on supercomputers, as well as the expertise of the climate scientists who run them.

Climate modeling has only lately developed to the point where these kinds of studies are realistic. The models dice the world into a grid of cells and calculate the state of every cell repeatedly through time. With supercomputers, researchers have the ability to model smaller cells and shorter time steps, resulting in finer resolution. And the finer the resolution, the more specific the model can be about what will happen at a given location.

At the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, scientists can now simulate the climate at a resolution of a few kilometers. “It's a huge improvement,” said Yan Feng, an EVS climate scientist and a co-lead of the initiative. “So it becomes easier for the climate model output to be used for decision-making.” Feng and the EVS division director, John Krummel, recently helped researchers from Nevada's Desert Research Institute develop a high-resolution fire hazard map. The project, funded by the California Public Utilities Commission, will help utilities manage and site overhead utility infrastructure.

Read the full article by Argonne's Carla Reiter.

Electrical power plants are often built near bodies of water because the water can be used for cooling, but this proximity to water can also leave plants vulnerable to natural threats, such as flooding. Argonne is helping utilities better manage this dynamic by supplying them with superior climate data and world-class infrastructure planning and decision support.
Electrical power plants are often built near bodies of water because the water can be used for cooling, but this proximity to water can also leave plants vulnerable to natural threats, such as flooding. Argonne is helping utilities better manage this dynamic by supplying them with superior climate data and world-class infrastructure planning and decision support. [Source: Shutterstock/leungchopan]
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portrait of Yan Feng