finding 4.1 : key-message-4-1

The Nation’s energy system is already affected by extreme weather events, and due to climate change, it is projected to be increasingly threatened by more frequent and longer-lasting power outages affecting critical energy infrastructure and creating fuel availability and demand imbalances (high confidence). The reliability, security, and resilience of the energy system underpin virtually every sector of the U.S. economy (high confidence). Cascading impacts on other critical sectors could affect economic and national security (high confidence).



This finding is from chapter 4 of Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

Process for developing key messages:

We sought an author team that could bring diverse experience, expertise, and perspectives to the chapter. Some members have participated in past assessment processes. The team’s diversity adequately represents the spectrum of current and projected impacts on the various components that compose the Nation’s complex energy system and its critical role to national security, economic well-being, and quality of life. The author team has demonstrated experience in the following areas:

  • characterizing climate risks to the energy sector—as well as mitigation and resilience opportunities—at national, regional, and state levels;

  • developing climate science tools and information for characterizing energy sector risks;

  • supporting local, state, and federal stakeholders with integrating climate change issues into long-range planning;

  • analyzing technological, economic, and business factors relevant to risk mitigation and resilience; and

  • analyzing energy system sensitivities to drivers such as policy, markets, and physical changes.

In order to develop Key Messages, the author team characterized current trends and projections based on wide-ranging input from federal, state, local, and tribal governments; the private sector, including investor-owned, state, municipal, and cooperative power companies; and state-of-the-art models developed by researchers in consultation with industry and stakeholders. Authors identified recent changes in the energy system (that is, a growing connectivity and electricity dependence that are pervasive throughout society) and focused on how these transitions could affect climate impacts, including whether the changes were likely to exacerbate or reduce vulnerabilities. Using updated assessments of climate forecasts, projections, and predictions, the team identified key vulnerabilities that require near-term attention and highlighted the actions being taken to enhance energy security, reliability, and resilience.

Description of evidence base:

The energy system’s vulnerability to climate change impacts is evidenced through two sources: 1) the historical experience of damage and disruption to energy assets and systems, using data and case studies from events such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as the 2011–2016 California drought, and 2) a growing base of scientific literature assessing and projecting the past and future role of climate change in driving damage and disruption to the energy sector. Federal government and international scientific efforts have documented the scope and scale of a changing climate’s effects on the U.S. energy system—factors that will need to be considered in long-term planning, design, engineering, operations, and maintenance of energy assets and supply chains if current standards of reliability are to be maintained or improved.df09ee8d-ac10-4cd4-bcb1-a087c727d891,f0d12f1c-4eea-41ee-a818-58ad09513531,f9f08a1a-4e9f-462f-a96e-3342cc6b7813,0b30f1ab-e4c4-4837-aa8b-0e19faccdb94,b66b1462-75b3-4a9b-ae8d-de2e190cf84b,77e1b701-2408-407b-a507-2d47571297e0,bac78b54-3398-4a47-b045-c230520dfa91,7f7ba1de-741c-4c22-a2d9-331c7a8a4134

This Key Message claims that damage and/or disruption to energy systems is more likely in the future. This claim is based on the following specific climate change projections and their expected impacts on energy systems:

The effects of extreme weather on energy system infrastructure have been well documented by researchers and synthesized into several assessment reports produced by federal agencies.f0d12f1c-4eea-41ee-a818-58ad09513531,f9f08a1a-4e9f-462f-a96e-3342cc6b7813,0b30f1ab-e4c4-4837-aa8b-0e19faccdb94,b66b1462-75b3-4a9b-ae8d-de2e190cf84b The link between extreme weather and power outages is strongest: extreme weather is the leading cause of power outages in the United States.f0d12f1c-4eea-41ee-a818-58ad09513531 Increased wind speeds and precipitation have been correlated with increased outage duration, and wind speeds have also been correlated with outage frequency.7f56b46b-c440-4f13-a7a9-2e78bc99277f Claims regarding fuel shortages are also based on historical experience; Superstorm Sandy led to local fuel distribution shortages, while Hurricane Katrina led to fuel production and refining shortages with national impacts.f9f08a1a-4e9f-462f-a96e-3342cc6b7813 The claim that energy system outages can increase energy prices, negatively affect economic growth, and disrupt critical services essential for health and safety is likewise substantiated by the historical experience of severe storms, flooding, and widespread power outages.b66b1462-75b3-4a9b-ae8d-de2e190cf84b

New information and remaining uncertainties:

The inability to predict future climate parameters with complete accuracy is one primary uncertainty that hinders energy asset owners, operators, and planners from anticipating, planning for, and acting on vulnerabilities to climate change and extreme weather. All climate change projections include a degree of uncertainty, owing to a variety of factors, including incomplete historical data, constraints on modeling methodologies, and uncertainty about future emissions. For some climate parameters, confidence in both the direction and magnitude of projected change is high, so expected impacts to the energy sector are well understood. For example, projected temperature changes across the United States uniformly indicate that the demand for cooling energy is projected to increase and the demand for heating energy is projected to decrease.75cf1c0b-cc62-4ca4-96a7-082afdfe2ab1,0b30f1ab-e4c4-4837-aa8b-0e19faccdb94

However, confidence is generally lower for other climate parameters projections, making it difficult to understand and prioritize the risks associated with climate hazards and lowering confidence levels in related energy sector impacts. There is uncertainty in projections regarding changes in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and convective storms, the magnitude and timing of sea level rise, the connection between projected changes in precipitation and the likelihood of droughts and flooding, and the potential increased seasonal variability in wind and solar resources. Hurricanes and convective storms represent major threats to energy infrastructure in general and to electricity transmission and distribution grids in particular.df09ee8d-ac10-4cd4-bcb1-a087c727d891,f9f08a1a-4e9f-462f-a96e-3342cc6b7813 However, historical data for hurricanes and convective storms (including tornadoes, hail, and thunderstorms) are lacking and inconsistent over different time periods and regions, and they can be biased based on population density and shifting populations.52ce1b63-1b04-4728-9f1b-daee39af665e Furthermore, for convective storms, most global climate models are not capable of modeling the atmosphere at a small enough scale to directly simulate storm formation.75cf1c0b-cc62-4ca4-96a7-082afdfe2ab1 Projections of changes in sea level rise and impacts on coastal energy infrastructure are improving, but significant uncertainty regarding the magnitude of long-term sea level rise impedes energy system planners’ ability to make decisions about infrastructure with useful lifetimes of 50 years or more.3bae2310-7572-47e2-99a4-9e4276764934 Global climate models are also insufficient to project future hydrological changes, as these projections lack sufficient spatial and temporal resolution and lack detail about other factors important to local hydrology, including changes to soil, groundwater, and water withdrawal and consumption. A lack of hydrological projections increases uncertainty about water availability consequences for hydropower and thermoelectric power plants and oil and gas extraction.

Assessment of confidence based on evidence:

Climate change is projected to affect the energy sector in many ways, but the overall effect of rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and increases in the frequency and/or severity of extreme weather is to increase the risk of damage or disruption to energy sector assets and energy systems. The combined projection of increasing risk of damage or disruption is very likely, with high confidence.

References :

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