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Climate Adaptation

Living With Yesterday’s Tech, Built for Last Century’s Climate

Extreme weather is starting to reveal how older infrastructure isn’t designed for the new normal

People seeking shelter from freezing temperatures at a makeshift warming shelter at San Antonio’s Travis Park Methodist Church on Feb. 16.

People seeking shelter from freezing temperatures at a makeshift warming shelter at San Antonio’s Travis Park Methodist Church on Feb. 16.

Photographer: Eric Gay/AP Photo

It’s not the new technology of renewable power that’s destabilizing the electric grid. It’s the new weather.

The U.S. electric industry plans for the weather of the past, building systems that can withstand the intensity of storms, heat waves and cold snaps long considered normal. But that normal has been made obsolete by climate change that’s has already pushed global average temperatures beyond bounds of the past. Extreme weather events like last week’s Texas deep freeze that left millions of homes and business in the dark were once written off as “ black swans,” so rare it didn’t pay for utility companies to prepare for them. Now they are happening with greater frequency.