Friday, July 12, 2013

Federal report warns that climate change is causing strain and problems in U.S. energy systems

Climate change is putting nuclear reactors and barges transporting coal to oil rigs and power lines at risk, while "heat waves, droughts, flooding, and wildfires could all put a heavy strain on key energy services in the decades ahead, costing Americans billions," according to an assessment by the U.S. Department of Energy, Brad Plumer reports for The Washington Post.

The report says "many coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants will have to shutdown partially or fully during the summer if the air gets hotter and certain rivers start to warm, since they won’t be able to cool as efficiently," Plumer reports. More frequent coastal storms or hurricanes could hamper oil and gas production in places like the Gulf of Mexico. Warmer air means the "transmission lines in the electric grid won’t be able to carry as much current and will operate less efficiently. Solar panels will be able to squeeze out less power if ambient air temperatures rise. Gas fracking operations in places like Texas could face restrictions if water becomes scarce. Oil and gas operations in Alaska may prove vulnerable to melting permafrost, which could damage existing infrastructure."

Warmer temperatures mean people will use more air conditioning, and with the risk of more frequent power-plant interruptions, the western U.S. "will need an additional 34 gigawatts of generation capacity by 2050 to keep the lights on," according to a study by Argonne National Laboratory, Plumer reports. "That’s an extra $45 billion. On the flip side, however, some parts of the United States, like the Northeast, will have fewer heating needs in the winter. (Read more) Map from the Energy Department shows recent events showing energy-sector vulnerabilities to climate change. The key to the map is on pages 2 and 3 of the study.

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