Using “Natural Infrastructure” to Mitigate Storm Risks for Utilities

January 2016

The developing field of “natural infrastructure” restoration provides the opportunity for utilities to better protect critical infrastructure assets from storms.

Key Details

Natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and coral reefs, provides free protection to many critical utility infrastructure components, but many of these ecosystems have been destroyed through coastal development. Utilities are particularly vulnerable to storms because of their widely distributed infrastructure. Human-engineered “gray infrastructure,” like flood barrier systems, can fail due to storm surge and flooding.

After Entergy lost its New Orleans headquarters for a year following Hurricane Katrina, the company decided to invest in natural infrastructure measures. Entergy is compensating landowners to preserve wetlands rather than paving over them. Wetlands provide a natural defense against storm surge, and the loss of vast stretches of Louisiana wetlands over the years contributed to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. In 2014, Entergy’s Environmental Initiatives Fund also provided a $500K grant to The Nature Conservancy to support coastal and wetlands restoration in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Coastal-based utilities adjacent to coral reefs could rebuild degraded reefs around their power plants. A recent report by The Nature Conservancy shows that coral reefs can reduce wave energy approaching coasts by more than 85 percent.

Implications

Entergy’s experience provides a model for other utilities in protecting their infrastructure. Utilities should be looking at a comprehensive set of non-traditional options to make infrastructure more resilient to storms. A new online tool, the Natural Infrastructure for Business Platform, launched at the United Nations Climate Conference, COP21, will make it easier for companies like utilities to determine when it is appropriate to implement natural infrastructure solutions.

More Information

Action2020: Investing In Natural Infrastructure

Bloomberg Business: In New Orleans, Entergy Prepares for the Next Big One

Entergy Charitable Foundation: Entergy Awards $500K Grant to The Nature Conservancy

ScottMadden: Climate Risks and Utilities: A Story of Confusion

The Nature Conservancy: Looking Back at Paris: Investing in Nature Gains Traction as Climate Solution

World Resources Institute: From Gray to Green – Investing in Natural Infrastructure

view more

Contributing Authors

Paul Quinlan Clean Tech Specialist

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