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August 2, 2013

Batten Down the Hatches

Posted by Ashiss K Dash (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:39 AM

Outreach Efforts to Create A Stronger, More Resilient New York [Source:mayorbloomberg] 

When it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change, an ounce of prevention could be worth a pound of cure. At least that's what government officials are saying as they request enormous infusion of cash to gird municipalities against super-storms of the future.

Even the best meteorologists can't say for certain how slight changes in planetary temperature will affect oceans and weather currents over the next few decades. So, deciding how much to spend on so-called resiliency measures amounts to a profound leadership conundrum. An interesting example is New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who is different from many politicians in that before coming to government service, he was a businessman - and a very successful one at that. You might say that he understands the importance of return on investment very well.

The study Bloomberg commissioned after his city got walloped by Superstorm Sandy last fall calls for spending $20 billion to fortify 520 miles of New York City coastline. It's all relative: A storm of similar magnitude, according to the study, could cost the city $90 billion should they fail to make those fortifications.

It's difficult for any leader to justify spending $20 billion when cities are having problems paying for schoolbooks, much less high-tech dams, water drainage systems, and jetties. Indeed, nobody ever said leading millions of people was an easy job, but the effects of climate change are making those jobs even more challenging. What now goes with the job of being a government leader is deciding how much of a municipal budget to devote to power outages, fuel shortages, and violent storms that may or may not happen.

Because I direct the utilities practice for Infosys, I'm keenly aware of the tough decisions about energy that governments must make. On one end is the president of the Maldives, who is pleading with the planet's biggest producers of greenhouse gasses to stem the tide. He says if they don't put a cap on their carbon dioxide emissions, his island nation might be underwater within the next century. He even held an underwater cabinet meeting, completely outfitted with scuba gear, to suggest that's how the country might be forced to operate in the future. On the other end of the spectrum are leaders who prefer to remain fiscally conservative (or simply don't have the tax base) when it comes to preparing for energy breakdowns.

The increase in global temperatures results in new peak load records every year. Changes in climate patterns are bringing about more extreme weather: in some places, frequent and intense storms accompanied by floods and in other places, more severe droughts. The U.S. government recently published another energy report (not to be confused with the New York City study) that suggests ways to reduce what it refers to as energy "vulnerability." The government report validates what we have known for years: Utilities need to update their grids and build sufficient back-up systems.

Some entities aren't waiting for their municipalities to update their grids. Private companies, for instance, are motivated generate their own energy to ensure reliability, availability, and scalability for future growth. They are also driven by the desire to put in place modern sustainability practices. They've become part of the overall best practices of any admirable company. The giant American retailer Wal-Mart, for instance, says it plans to generate its own energy and be self-sustainable by 2020.

Wal-Mart has an ambitious plan that the world is watching. You're going to see more private enterprises rely on their own small generators that will likely encompass a range of power sources, including wind and solar. They'll operate off their own micro-grids. If these enterprises generate excess power, they will join the ranks of the independent power producers who generate and sell their power to utilities. Just last week, the small American town of Woodbridge, Connecticut, received a grant from the state to build its own micro-grid. Like Wal-Mart, you can bet other towns will be watching Woodbridge to see how soon it can become self-sufficient.

It's great to see enterprises public and private being extremely proactive in dealing with the ageing energy infrastructure around them. If the past few years have been any clue, we're all in for some wild acts of Mother Nature. So it's vital that we prepare the best we can with the resources and knowledge we have today.

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