Global warming effects on climate change
Extreme weather events have become more frequent and costly in recent decades. In 2011 and 2012 alone, 25 extreme weather events caused $188 billion in damages and 1, 100 fatalities. In 2012, eight million people across 21 states lost power as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Such extreme weather events are likely to increase as global temperatures continue to rise, with significant consequences for the electricity sector.
To effectively address these growing climate risks — and ensure a reliable supply of electricity for years to come — we must take steps today to improve our aging electricity infrastructure and reduce the carbon emissions that are driving up the planet's temperature.
Ramping up renewable energy is a key component of this effort, both to make our electricity system more resilient and reliable in the short-term, and to curb climate change over the long-term.
The growing consequences of climate change increasingly threaten our electricity system
Photo: Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, U.S. Air Force
- Accelerating sea level rise: Today some 100 electric facilities in the contiguous U.S., including power plants and substations, are sited within four feet of local high tide. Global average sea level has increased eight inches since 1880, and is projected to rise up to an additional 6.6 feet over the course of this century, greatly increasing coastal flooding risks.
- Increasing wildfires: Wildfires can directly damage transmission poles and other electricity infrastructure, but the greatest risk comes from smoke and particulate matter, which can ionize the air, create an electrical pathway away from transmission lines, and shut down the lines. Climate change affects multiple factors that increase wildfire risk; the average number of large wildfires in the western U.S. rose from 140 in the 1980s to 250 between 2000 and 2012.
- More frequent and intense heat waves: Climate change is already bringing more intense, more frequent, and longer lasting heat waves in North America. These periods of extreme heat decrease the efficiency of power plants during periods when electricity demand is highest, placing additional stresses on the electricity system.
- Droughts and reduced water supplies: The electricity sector is highly dependent on water for cooling. Power production accounts for the single largest share of all freshwater withdrawals in the U.S. As temperatures continue to rise, droughts and reduced water supplies are likely to become the norm in some regions, increasing the risk to the power sector.
- Elevated water temperatures: Higher air temperatures warm the water in rivers and reservoirs used by power plants for their cooling needs. If the temperature of incoming water is too hot, or if the temperature of the discharge water is too high, power plants must dial back production or shut down temporarily, as has occurred at numerous coal and nuclear power plants over the past decade.