Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Climate Change May Put Power Grid at Risk in the West

"Climate proof" the West's power grid, or the region's utilities may not be able to generate as much electricity, according to a new study. (Credit: David Kingham/flicker) Click to Enlarge.
The ravages of climate change could severely hurt the ability of utilities in the 11 Western states to generate power unless they “climate proof” their power grid using renewables and energy efficiency, something they are not prepared for, according to a new study.

For nearly half of the West’s existing power plants, climate change could reduce their ability to produce electricity by up to 3 percent during an average summer and possibly up to nearly 9 percent during a decade-long drought, according to the study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change by researchers at Arizona State University.  Coal-fired power plants in Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and Colorado are especially vulnerable, the study says.

Upgrading the power grid to increase electric transmission capacity, investing in renewables and encouraging electric power conservation will help “climate proof” the power grid to help fend off these problems, the study says.

Climate change is expected to profoundly affect the Western U.S., possibly making the already-parched Southwest more arid and vulnerable to drought.  Stream flows will decline and mountain snowpack will melt earlier as temperatures rise, constraining water supplies.  Wildfires and heat waves will be more frequent, and forests throughout the Northwest will be vulnerable to disease outbreaks and die-offs, according to the National Climate Assessment.

Together, those factors conspire to hit power plants hard, especially during times of peak demand when people are using the most power, usually during the summer months when air conditioners are run at full blast.

Scientists have a limited understanding of how electricity production and transmission will be affected by climate change, and the study offers a peek into what those effects might be, Mikhail V. Chester, Arizona State University engineering professor and study co-author, said.

Higher temperatures and low stream flow reduce coal-fired power plants’ ability to use water for cooling, preventing them from operating at full capacity.  The most vulnerable power plants could see a reduction in power generation capacity by up to 8.8 percent, the study says.

Read more at Climate Change May Put Power Grid at Risk in the West

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