Cyber rogues aren’t the only threat to energy supply, changing environment offers plenty of challenges

US Department of Energy measures impact of climate change on energy supply

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The Nation's energy infrastructure isn't just at risk via online security rogues.  The US Department of Energy today released a report that details the growing dangers from our ever-changing environment on the energy infrastructure that sounds every bit as threatening as some of the online threats.

The "US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather" report observes that  annual temperatures across the United States have increased by about 1.5°F over the last century. It notes that  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.

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For the energy arena what all of this means, the DOE says,  includes:

  • 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% 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.
  • 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, the DOE stated.

"Potential future opportunities for federal, state, and local governments could include innovative policies that broaden the suite of available climate-resilient energy technologies and encourage their deployment, improved data collection and models to better inform researchers and lawmakers of energy sector vulnerabilities and response opportunities, and enhanced stakeholder engagement," the DOE stated.

The report went onto detail some of the new technologies that could be - and in some cases are already being deployed to combat climate issues. Some of the ideas include:

  • Water efficient technologies for fuels production, including conventional oil and natural gas, shale gas, shale oil,and coalbed methane.
  • Improved energy efficiency and reduced water intensity of thermoelectric power generation, including innovative cooling technologies like non-traditional water supplies such as using municipal wastewater or brackish groundwater)
  • Increased use of drought tolerant crop varieties for bioenergy production and more water efficient conversion of biomass into biofuels
  • Increased resilience of energy infrastructure to wildfires, storms , floods, and sea level rise, including hardening of existing facilities and structures.
  • These activities will increase the resilience of our energy infrastructure by "hardening" existing facilities and structures to better withstand severe droughts, floods, storms or wildfires and by contributing to smarter development of new facilities.

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