Energy Sector Faces Significant Risk from Climate Change, Federal Report Says

Federal Climate Report 2015Climate change is already affecting the U.S. energy sector, and the more frequent and extreme storms that are projected for the coming years could pose profound risks to the nation’s aging energy infrastructure, says a new report from the U.S. Energy Department.

While the impacts of climate change will vary across the country – from wildfires to droughts to more powerful hurricanes — nearly every region will experience effects on the electric grid, thermoelectric power generation and fuel transport, says the report, which also highlights a number of projects nationwide that are aimed at improving the resiliency of the electricity system.

“To address the harsh impacts of climate change and extreme weather, we need innovative solutions that will make our energy sector more resilient, more flexible, and more efficient, as we build a cleaner, more climate-friendly energy system,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement that accompanied the report.

In the Northeast, temperatures are expected to rise by up to 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, which could strain energy resources in a variety of ways. Higher average temperatures and recurrent heat waves are projected to increase electricity demand for cooling. Hurricanes are expected to intensify, and combined with sea-level rise, hurricane-associated storm surge could cause greater, more frequent coastal damage. Power plants, electric grid components and energy infrastructure along the coast will be at significant risk of damages. Inland areas will also be prone to repetitive flooding, given projections for an upswing in heavy precipitation events. The number of days with more than one inch of rainfall is expected to climb by up to 30% by mid-century, says a fact sheet that accompanied the report.

Energy efficiency, capacity expansion, and market mechanisms such as demand response are among the measures the electric sector is advised to pursue in order to accommodate future increases in electricity demand. The report also highlights efforts in Maine, New Jersey and New York to harden electricity infrastructure, speed the verification of outages and restoration times, and develop microgrids to enable critical facilities to maintain power in the case of a broader grid outage.

The report details federal outreach to states and communities to help them prepare for the challenges they will likely experience as temperatures warm, including agency support for research and development of climate-resilient energy technologies. The agency is also providing technical information and assistance to facilitate energy-sector climate resilience and preparedness with states, communities, and the private sector, and conducting forums and training with energy officials, emergency managers, policy makers, and electricity-system operators.

You can access the report here.

–By Rona Cohen

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