News, North America

US National Climate Assessment: Challenges to Energy Infrastructure

Washington has released its third 800-page National Climate Assessment. The report has been co-authored by hundreds of specialists and scientists, who shared their insights on how changing climate and environment are already impacting ecosystems, human health, and agriculture. The report also stresses alarming data about threat of storm, heat waves, droughts, and other severe events that could likely disrupt energy infrastructure.
The report points out that extreme weather conditions are impacting energy production and delivery facilities, causing supply disruptions of varying lengths and magnitudes as well as affecting infrastructure that in turn depends on energy supply. The report sums up that there is sufficient evidence that rising extremes in weather are being influenced by human activity, thus giving rise to new risks for energy systems. Utilities tend to be among the most vulnerable and to extreme weather. The sector suffers mostly from aging infrastructure problems, outdated response systems, and inconsistent planning.
The report further lists five things that should be particularly worrisome for the utilities sector. First, extreme weather is among the most prominent reasons behind outages. Reportedly, about 80 percent of outages since 2003 have been caused by extreme weather conditions. Second, heavy storms in charge of power outages are getting heavier, which in turn increases the risk of floods. According to a 2011 report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that was made public in 2012, there are almost 36 nuclear reactors at risk of being flooded due to dam failure. Third, electricity is likely to be more and more on demand as temperatures spike. As the authors of the report claim, “higher summer temperatures will increase electricity use, causing higher summer peak loads, while warmer winters will decrease energy demands for heating.” Fourth, sea-level rise will threaten more coastal energy infrastructure – even a seemingly small rise will already bring its consequences.

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