Electricity and information and communication technology infrastructure

This paper was developed by the Prairie Climate Centre in 2017 to provide the public and government officials in Calgary and Edmonton with an overview on building climate resilience across energy and information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure systems. The impacts of climate change most relevant to urban energy and ICT infrastructure are the projected higher frequency of extreme events such as floods, storms, forest fires and drought episodes. In response, there is a need to build the resilience of cities so that they are better able to withstand anticipated and unanticipated shocks and stresses. This paper demonstrates connections between energy and ICT and other city infrastructure, showcases best practices for improving resilience within these sectors and provides recommendations for action to integrate qualities of resilience into these systems. The actions recommended by the Prairie Climate Centre were categorized into four main categories: strategic actions, regulatory/administrative actions, economic instruments and voluntary/community linkages. Each action proposed gives details specific to the Alberta context and how the City of Calgary and the City of Edmonton can play a role in building urban resilience.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

In recent decades, Alberta has experienced significant changes in its climate as well as its economy, population and environment. Alberta’s mean annual temperatures are increasing and projected to continue to rise in the coming decades—potentially by 2.0°C by the 2030s and 4.0°C by the 2060s (compared to the 1990s)—should the current rate of global greenhouse gas emissions remain unchanged. Total average annual precipitation is also projected to increase, but this change will vary between seasons; precipitation levels are likely to increase more in the winter and decline in the summer. While these shifts in average climate conditions are significant, the more profound risk of climate change lies in the expected increase in climate variability and extreme weather events such as longer heat waves and more frequent heavy rainstorms. The impacts of climate change most relevant to urban energy and information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure are the projected higher frequency of extreme events such as floods, storms, forest fires and drought episodes. The Prairie Climate Centre analyzed local climate projections for the City of Calgary and the City of Edmonton. From here, the projections were applied to the energy and ICT sectors, finding several climate risks and impacts. The impacts of climate change that were found most relevant to urban energy and information and communication technology infrastructure are the projected higher frequency of extreme events such as floods, storms, forest fires and drought episodes. Energy, more so than information infrastructure, will also be affected by secular climate trends, such as long-term shifts in the water resources available for hydropower generation and thermal power plant cooling as well as overall warmer temperatures that will increase air conditioning loads.

Identifying Actions

The Prairie Climate Centre collected several case study examples for building climate resilience within the energy and ICT sectors and analyzed best practices before recommending actions to be taken in Calgary and Edmonton. One of the overarching actions identified was the importance of strengthening and hardening the design of conventional infrastructure components within the energy and ICT sectors. In order to increase the robustness of energy and ICT infrastructure technical assessments should be completed to review design protocols. The paper identified the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC) as a key tool to be used. A PIEVC-type design process can reveal the critical design criteria to increase robustness, such as hardening cell towers to tolerate higher wind and ice loads, utilizing geothermal cooling for server farms for enduring long heat waves and locating server farms on mid-floors in office towers to minimize flood risks. Additionally, investing in smart grid technology (smart meters, smart appliances, renewable energy generation, automatic power production, power conditioning and distribution control) was identified as an action to effectively energy system resilience. Within the ICT sector, increasing access to diverse communication channels was identified as a key mechanism for building capacity in the event main channels are disrupted.

Implementation

The actions recommended by the Prairie Climate Centre were categorized into four main categories: strategic actions, regulatory/administrative actions, economic instruments and voluntary/community linkages. Each action proposed gives details specific to the Alberta context and how the City of Calgary and the City of Edmonton can play a role in building urban resilience. Examples of actions include: Policy-makers should consider incentives to encourage new entrants into the Internet Service Providers (ISP) space, a good example being www.les.net, which is essentially a startup telecom company offering gigabit connectivity and enabling a cluster of new technology companies in downtown Winnipeg. Creating a climate-resilient city is a form of enterprise risk management that should be embraced at senior political levels as an economic development narrative and understood by the bureaucracy as modern asset management. Develop key messaging that climate resiliency will reduce future risk and cost, and makes the city more attractive.