An interdisciplinary research project at Arizona State University funded by the National Science Foundation's Water, Sustainability, and Climate (WSC) program (Award 1360509).

Extreme Heat Futures
Electricity Generation Vulnerability Arizona's Water-Electricity Nexus Event Tree Assessment Framework


Advancing Infrastructure and Institutional Resilience to Climate Change for Coupled Water-Energy Systems

Western US regions are expected to experience more heat days, water shortages, intense precipitation events, forest fires, and increased peak power demands in the future. Desert regions are particularly vulnerable to future climate-induced environmental changes, given their scarce water resources and heavy reliance on thermoelectric power generation. As climate-related environmental events become more common, water and electricity managers will be either directly or indirectly exposed to vulnerabilities in the interdependent water-electricity systems. These vulnerabilities may arise because the infrastructures were designed for a climate and demand profile that may be significantly different than what will be experienced in the coming decades, and because the institutions that manage the systems do not yet have anticipatory governance structures that would enable them to proactively address the future. This project will develop a framework for assessing coupled water and electricity infrastructure-institution vulnerability at cross-scales to future climate events. It will create an educational game for infrastructure managers to learn how to anticipate future vulnerable states of the infrastructure and proactively deploy physical and institutional changes that will improve the resilience of the coupled systems.

While research has studied the interdependencies between water and electricity infrastructure, little is known about how the vulnerability in one system may propagate to the other, and especially about how the operational governance structures of these systems should be adapted for a climate-constrained future. There is a need to better understand how the governing of water and electricity services from the regional to the local level can be coordinated to proactively reduce future climate vulnerability. Using Arizona as a case study, this project will develop (1) a cross-scale (subsystem to the region) model of the water and electricity systems, (2) an institutional assessment that includes infrastructure managers, decision makers, and policies that control or impact each component of the water and electricity infrastructure, and (3) an extreme climate vulnerability assessment that joins physical infrastructure characteristics with the institutional processes that govern them. With this coupled infrastructure-institutional vulnerability assessment we will (4) develop a learning game for infrastructure managers to both teach them about the vulnerabilities in the coupled infrastructure and also help them understand how their institutional structures can be proactively changed to improve systemwide resilience. Through a series of workshops with infrastructure managers from the US Southwest, we will (5) test the game and also facilitate visioning and scenario analysis exercises. We will create new knowledge and methods for assessing water and electricity systems that acknowledges that failure can propagate through complex systems and can start with vulnerabilities in both physical and institutional infrastructure. We will then explore how novel game-based learning approaches can provide researchers and infrastructure managers with knowledge of the complex system and an understanding of the strategies that are needed to create anticipatory governance for a climate-constrained future.

During the project, we will convene infrastructure managers to not only test our game but to also participate in visioning and case study exercises, and using this knowledge create an educational platform for the public, technical workforce, and university students. The learning game will ultimately be deployed to a publicly available website and a series of sustainable infrastructure transitions guidance documents will be developed for municipal water and electricity, agricultural water, and power generation users and organizations. We will then create a platform for anticipatory governance of climate vulnerabilities by creating a forum program for the Arizona Science Center, build communication tools for community leaders and engineering/technical workforces, and a curriculum for university students. Ultimately, we view the research as an important first step for identifying how next generation sustainable infrastructure should be deployed and managed. As such, we anticipate that the findings will have broad appeal to academics and infrastructure managers not only in the US but also internationally.

Estimating Future Extreme Heat Events in the U.S. Southwest

Already the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, extreme heat events (EHEs) are expected to occur with greater frequency, duration and intensity over the next century. However, not all populations are affected equally. Risk factors for heat mortality—including age, race, income level, and infrastructure characteristics—often vary by geospatial location. While traditional epidemiological studies sometimes account for social risk factors, they rarely account for intra-urban variability in meteorological characteristics, or for the interaction between social and meteorological risks. This study aims to develop estimates of EHEs at an intra-urban scale for two major metropolitan areas in the Southwest: Maricopa County (Arizona) and Los Angeles County (California). EHEs are identified at a 1/8-degree (12 km) spatial resolution using an algorithm that detects prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures. Downscaled temperature projections from three general circulation models (GCMs) are analyzed under three relative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios. Over the next century, EHEs are found to increase by 340-1800% in Maricopa County, and by 150-840% in Los Angeles County. Frequency of future EHEs is primarily driven by greenhouse gas concentrations, with the greatest number of EHEs occurring under the RCP 8.5 scenario. Intra-urban variation in EHEs is also found to be significant. Within Maricopa County, “high risk” regions exhibit 4.5 times the number of EHE days compared to “low risk” regions; within Los Angeles County, this ratio is 15 to 1.

Additional information is available at urbantransitions.org/extremeheat.
Background report: Matthew Bartos and Mikhail Chester, 2014, "Assessing Future Extreme Heat Events at Intra-Urban Scales: A Comparative Study of Phoenix and Los Angeles", Arizona State University Report No. ASU-CESEM-2014-WPS-001.


Electricity and the environment are inextricably linked and with climate change there is potential that energy generation systems become vulnerable. Through modelling of changes in climate and hydrology the impacts on thermoelectric and hydroelectric power generation are assessed. As surface water flows change, electricity generation technologies become vulnerable and may operate with reduced margins between supply and demand. We explore this uncertainty in this project theme.

Deepak Sivaraman, Matthew Bartos, Mikhail Chester, and Stephanie Pincetl 2014, "Future Electricity Supply Vulnerability and Climate Change: A Case Study of Maricopa and Los Angeles Counties", Arizona State University Report No. ASU-CESEM-2014-WPS-003.

Matthew Bartos and Mikhail Chester, 2014, "Methodology for Estimating Electricity Generation Vulnerability to Climate Change Using a Physically-based Modelling System", Arizona State University Report No. ASU-CESEM-2014-WPS-002.

Arizona's Water-Electricity Nexus

Water and energy resources are intrinsically linked, yet they are managed separately—even in the water-scarce American southwest. This study develops a spatially explicit model of water-energy interdependencies in Arizona and assesses the potential for cobeneficial conservation programs. The interdependent benefits of investments in eight conservation strategies are assessed within the context of legislated renewable energy portfolio and energy efficiency standards. The cobenefits of conservation are found to be significant. Water conservation policies have the potential to reduce statewide electricity demand by 0.82–3.1%, satisfying 4.1–16% of the state’s mandated energy-efficiency standard. Adoption of energy-efficiency measures and renewable generation portfolios can reduce nonagricultural water demand by 1.9–15%. These conservation cobenefits are typically not included in conservation plans or benefit-cost analyses. Many cobenefits offer negative costs of saved water and energy, indicating that these measures provide water and energy savings at no net cost. Because ranges of costs and savings for water-energy conservation measures are somewhat uncertain, future studies should investigate the cobenefits of individual conservation strategies in detail. Although this study focuses on Arizona, the analysis can be extended elsewhere as renewable portfolio and energy efficiency standards become more common nationally and internationally..

Matthew Bartos and Mikhail Chester, 2014, "The Conservation Nexus: Valuing Interdependent Water and Energy Savings in Arizona", Environmental Science & Technology, 48(4), pp. 2139-2149, doi: 10.1021/es4033343.

Institutional-Infrastructural Event Tree Failure Analysis Framework

A coupled institutional-infrastructural vulnerability event tree failure analysis framework is developed using the 2003 electricity grid failure in the Northeastern US. The US-Canadian electricity grid is a network of providers and users that operate almost completely independently of one another. In August of 2003, First Energy’s (FE) Harding-Chamberlain transmission line near Akron, Ohio went offline starting a series of cascading failures that eventually led to 8 US states and 1 Canadian province totaling nearly 50 million people without power. The failure of transmission lines are common occurrences relating to the inability to exactly predict the electricity demand at any time (as will be discussed later in this document). The inability to properly monitor and react across multiple organizations to the downed line was the true failure that led to the blackout. This outage not only left homes and businesses without power but paralyzed critical public services such as transportation networks and hospitals. The estimated cost of the outage is between 4 and 6 billion US dollars.

Mikhail Chester, 2013, "Human and Organizational Factors that Contributed to the US-Canadian August 2003 Electricity Grid Blackout", Arizona State University Report No. ASU-SSEBE-CESEM-2013-RPR-003.

2003 Northeast Blackout Simulation: a javascript simulation of the US-Canada blackout that led to 10 million people in Ontario and 45 million people in eight U.S. states without electricity for up to two days.

Research Team

Mikhail Chester, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering
Arizona State University

Matthew Bartos
Researcher, Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering
Arizona State University

Susan Spierre Clark, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, School of Sustainability, Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering
Arizona State University

Daniel Eisenberg
Graduate Student, Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering
Arizona State University

Changdeok Gim
Graduate Student, Science and Technology Policy
Arizona State University

Clark Miller, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, School of Politics and Global Studies
Arizona State University

Thomas Seager, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering
Arizona State University