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Adapting to Reduced Equipment Thermal Ratings

This case study describes the approaches taken by several utilities to mitigate the challenges posed by increased temperature.


Higher temperatures due to climate change pose a significant challenge for many of the power lines that distribute electricity to homes and businesses. By law, power lines must hang a minimum distance above the ground. Electric utilities operate distribution lines and equipment, and manage minimum clearance requirements on the basis of thermal ratings, which are estimates of the total capacity of an electrical component to carry current at a point in time. Power lines sag as they heat up, due to two main factors: warmer temperatures and increased amounts of energy transmitted through the lines. As temperatures rise due to climate change, some lines would likely hang below the minimum distance from the ground required by law. This case study describes the approaches taken by several utilities to mitigate this challenge. A cost-effective approach is to adopt improved design standards for new distribution equipment.

Key take-aways

  • For costly adaptation options, with payback exceeding typical planning horizons, collaboration on financing between industry, regulators and government is essential.
  • Low-regret’ adaptation options, e.g. low-cost upgrades during normal asset replacement, trigger benefits in most future scenarios, and are easy to finance and implement.
  • Collaboration between companies, regulators and governments is essential to design and implement adaptation policies in the power sector.

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