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08MAY
2014
Report: US Department of Energy: U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather
Category: Energy, Government & Policy, Latest News, Oil, Gas & Extractives

The U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather report, which builds on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, notes that annual temperatures across the United States have increased by about 1.5°F over the last century. In fact, 2012 was both the warmest year on record in the contiguous United States and saw the hottest month since the country started keeping records in 1895.  The implications for America’s energy infrastructure include:

·    Increased risk of temporary partial or full shutdowns at thermoelectric (coal, natural gas, and nuclear) power plants because of decreased water availability for cooling and higher ambient and air water temperatures.  Thermoelectric power plants require water cooling in order to operate.  A study of coal plants, for example, found that roughly 60 percent of the current fleet is located in areas of water stress.

·    Reduced power generation from hydroelectric power plants in some regions and seasons due to drought and declining snowpack. For example, earlier spring snowmelts could decrease summer water availability leading to potential hydropower shortages when energy demand for cooling is greatest.

·    Risks to energy infrastructure located along the coast from sea level rise, increasing intensity of storms, and higher storm surge and flooding -- potentially disrupting oil and gas production, refining, and distribution, as well as electricity generation and distribution. 

·    Increasing risks of physical damage to power lines, transformers and electricity distribution systems from hurricanes, storms and wildfires that are growing more intense and more frequent.

·    Increased risks of disruption and delay to fuel transport by rail and barge during more frequent periods of drought and flooding that affect water levels in rivers and ports.

·    Higher air conditioning costs and risks of blackouts and brownouts in some regions if the capacity of existing power plants does not keep pace with the growth in peak electricity demand due to increasing temperatures and heat waves.  An Argonne National Laboratory study found that higher peak electricity demand as a result of climate change related temperature increases will require an additional 34 GW of new power generation capacity in the western United States alone by 2050, costing consumers $45 billion.  This is roughly equivalent to more than 100 new power plants, and doesn’t include new power plants that will be needed to accommodate growth in population or other factors.

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