Operating a utility is not for the faint of heart. Utility service providers, responsible as they are for providing the public with a reliable supply of gas, water, and electricity, keep our homes and economies running with appliances, temperature control, water, and sanitation.
Not only do they provide these critical services at scale – often massive scale, they do so while also operating at the frontlines of climate change, where human populations increasingly overlap with extreme weather events. For instance, large retirement-age populations have led significant growth into the Wildlife Urban Interface (WUI). Defined by the U.S. Forest Service as where “humans and their development meet or intermix with wildland,” the WUI is one of the fastest land-growth types globally, encompassing one in three homes in the U.S., alone.
What’s the problem for utilities? This surge of customers into the WUI has seriously exacerbated risk they incur. The WUI is widely considered a (wildfire) powder keg, with its booming human development providing the tinder. And now, utilities are squarely on the hook, with vulnerable assets (to maintain) and customers (to service) in the high-risk area.
So far, the record is mixed for utilities managing risk in this new normal. The frequency and duration of power outages are rising, with extreme weather events seen as the principal culprit, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
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