DOE Dire Warnings Climate Change Impact Energy Grid
July 12, 2013

DOE Offers Dire Warnings Of Climate Change’s Impact On Energy Grid

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A new US Department of Energy (DOE) report warns about the massive direct and indirect impacts climate change is expected to have on the United States' energy grid in the coming years.

Citing a shortage of cooling water for power plants, low water levels hampering coal barge and oil tanker traffic, and raging wildfires taking down transmission lines, the report asserts the effects of climate change are already being felt by the nation's energy sector.

"Increasing temperatures, decreasing water availability, more intense storm events, and sea level rise will each independently, and in some cases in combination, affect the ability of the United States to produce and transmit electricity from fossil, nuclear, and existing and emerging renewable energy sources," the report reads.

Last year, the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut had to deactivate one reactor because the water it normally draws from the Long Island Sound for cooling was too warm, the report noted. Similar events took place at the Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey and the Limerick Generating Station in Pennsylvania in 2010.

In another incident affecting the energy grid, lower precipitation levels in the Sierra Nevada last year reduced California's hydroelectric power generation by 8 percent. In 2010, record-low water levels in Nevada's Lake Mead resulted in a 23 percent loss in the Hoover Dam's power generation.

The report said higher temperatures, particularly in the western US, are also increasing the demand for air conditioning, forcing blackouts and brownouts in some areas. The DOE's Argonne National Laboratory said air conditioning demand in the western US will require 34 gigawatts of additional capability by 2050 at a cost of over $40 billion.

"We don't have a robust energy system, and the costs are significant," Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for climate change policy and technology and the report supervisor, told the New York Times. "The cost today is measured in the billions. Over the coming decades, it will be in the trillions. You can't just put your head in the sand anymore."

In addition to leveling a series of dire warnings, the report also outlined several steps that could reduce the nation's vulnerability to increased demands on its energy grid.

The report emphasized the need for energy storage and enhanced grid supervision. The authors also suggested the development of "microgrids" and "controlled islanding," to make the grid less susceptible to climate impacts.

To guard against 'superstorms' that many expect to see more frequently because of climate change, the DOE recommended the "placement of substations and other critical local electricity infrastructure in locations that are not anticipated to be affected by storm surges."

The government agency also said "unconventional" oil and gas operations, such as hydrofracking facilities, should take steps to limit their use of freshwater through the use of brackish water or so-called "dry fracturing" techniques.

The report also highlighted the use of energy generation by wind and solar, which don't require the use of fresh water to spin turbines or release greenhouse gas.

"(Solar) and wind energy have experienced cost reductions, encouraging greater market deployment of these more climate-resilient technologies," the report noted.