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America’s Threatened Energy Sector

A recent report published by the Department of Energy (DOE) highlights the dramatic impact climate change has on the supply of nearly every type of energy in the United States. From nuclear and hydroelectric power production, to oil and coal transportation, the DOE report warns that the effects of climate change challenge nearly every energy production and transportation process. As Jennifer Morgan, deputy director of climate and energy at the World Resource Institute, puts it, “The report accurately outlines the risks to the energy sector in the United States,” summing it up as a “wake-up call” for the country’s energy suppliers.

The driving factor in these surmounting risks is the rising global temperature, which has increased by roughly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century. The Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut, for example, uses water from the Long Island Sound to cool its facility.  The facility had to shut down one of its reactors last year because the water was too warm. Higher temperatures have also impact hydroelectric plants.  Melting of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has increased, resulting in an 8% reduction in California’s hydroelectric power generation last year.

Widespread droughts have also become more prevalent as a result of higher temperatures, wreaking havoc on energy suppliers. Record low levels on the Mississippi River and other major waterways have limited the transportation of coal and oil, while extensive droughts have reduced the Hoover Dam’s energy production potential by 23%. The report cites that 60% of thermoelectric power plants (plants that heat water to generate steam that spins the turbine) are located in drought areas. These plants, which need water cooling to operate, are put at serious risk as water becomes scarcer.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that higher temperatures increase the demand for air conditioning. Meeting this demand will require immense amounts of energy; about 100 new power plants would be needed by 2050, costing consumers roughly $40 billion.

Jonathan Pershing, the deputy assistant secretary of energy for climate change policy and technology, who oversaw the development of the report commented, “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.”

Details in the report are disconcerting on many levels, however it does cite new technologies that are being developed to improve water efficiency and protect energy infrastructure. It also gave a few basic suggestions for diminishing risk in the near term:

  • Power plants and oil drillers should reduce their use of water and should recycle used water.
  • Electricity companies should strengthen their transmission grids and create backup systems for emergencies.
  • Hydroelectric dam operators should improve turbine performance.
  • Energy users should reduce their demand for energy.

To read the entire report, click on the following link:


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