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Electric utilities executives have climate change at the top of their minds these days. But despite recognizing risks to their current business operations, it seems many are taking a wait and see approach to dealing with it. This all comes from a forthcoming report from Acclimatise and IBM.

Responding to survey questions as part of the Carbon Disclosure Project, utilities executives identified power outages, damage to operational performance, increased demand from urbanization and stress on water resources as the biggest climate-change related risks to their current businesses.

The report will be made available shortly, but for anyone wanting the full details, you are invited to join a live web-based conference call today at 3 p.m. British Summer Time and 10 a.m. U.S. Eastern Standard Time. Registration is open to the public. Be sure to register as early as possible.

In the meantime, following are a few more statistics coming from the report, as quoted in the press release:

  • While responding companies seem to have incorporated climate change in general into their governance structures, only a few electric utilities (6 percent) refer to adaptation directly as an integrated element of their governance, reporting and lobbying practices.
  • 48 percent report to manage their climate risks, however adaptation actions are generally isolated and rarely form part of climate risk management strategies.
  • 31 percent provide evidence of their climate change risks.
  • Compared to identifying climate risks (93 percent), far fewer electric utilities report that they recognise the opportunities of changing climatic conditions (59 percent).

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    My guess (and that’s what it is at this point) is that it is a cost issue as you mention. Margins are often thin so preserving short term profits becomes critical. As such, investments get sidelined because it represents a short term margin hit. So one of a few things has to happen. 1) The risk becomes so immediate or so obvious that they are forced to seek alternatives (in the case you refer to, cleaner burning power generating fuels); 2) regulation forces companies to adjust; 3) the economics of making the investments becomes financially attractive (given a number of factors) or, 4) the company is extraordinary and takes a big risk by innovating early on. The latter of those requires good judgment and few are willing to bet it, because times when the judgment is accurate, the first innovators don’t always reap the rewards. Instead companies sit back and wait to see what their peers are doing. Then they tend to move as a flock with innovators followed closely behind.

    Just a casual observation. I’ll try and get a more informed expert to weigh in shortly.

    Posted by: Adam Christensen
    August 20, 2009
    3:34 pm

    Look these guys for some reason have for the most part been unwilling to adopt new tech to clean their old coal plants.

    Obama’s CO2 plan is a giveaway to the Utilities and Traders. So how much are these folks worried about anything?

    I’ve never quite understood: you run a utility and make some decent change, so why not run your coal clean? Utility and cost? Aren’t these guys smart enough to run a clean operation and at the same time make folks some money while providing needed services at usable rates? Give me a break.

    If you can’t figure out how to cleanly burn coal and make a dollar –there’s nothing to talk about anymore. Who are these people?

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