Climate Change

Published on May 21st, 2015 | by Glenn Meyers

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Climate-Proofing The Western US Power Grid

May 21st, 2015 by  

New research from Arizona State University has raised the issue of climate-proofing the United States’ electricity infrastructure due to possible negative impacts from climate change presently taking place.

According to EurekAlert, two Arizona State University engineers contend the electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in the Western United States must be “climate-proofed” to diminish the risk of future power shortages, a matter of no small issue, according to the the authors, Matthew Bartos and Mikhail Chester, who published their research in the current issue of the research journal Nature Climate Change.

ASU_nclimate2648-f1

Average reductions in summertime capacity by mid-century (2040 – 2060) for vulnerable regions in the WECC region . Source: Nature Climate Change

Bartos and Chester say that expected increases in extreme heat and drought events will bring changes in precipitation, air & water temperatures, air density, as well as humidity, that can “significantly constrain the energy generation capacity of power plants.” The authors believe steps must be taken to upgrade power grid systems and technologies in order to withstand the impacts of a generally hotter and drier climate,

Matthew Bartos is a research scientist and Mikhail Chester is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Chester also has an appointment in the School of Sustainability in ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

In their article Impacts of climate change on electric power supply in the Western United States, they report that power stations are particularly vulnerable to adverse climatic conditions predicted to occur within the next half-century.

“In their development plans, power providers are not taking into account climate change impacts,” Bartos said. “They are likely overestimating their ability to meet future electricity needs.”

This is not good news at all, as the West of the United States is expected to see greater energy demand due to population growth and higher temperatures. Bartos and Chester say power plants must strengthen transmission capacity and enact conservation strategies if they are to remain capable of reliably supplying power to the region as conditions change. Power providers also should invest in more resilient renewable energy sources and consider local climatic constraints when selecting sites for new generation facilities, the authors said.

“Diverse arrays of energy-generation technologies are used by the West’s power grid. We are looking at five technologies, hydroelectric, steam, wind and combustion turbines, and photovoltiacs,” Chester said. “We’re finding that some power generation technologies can be more climate-resilient than others. Renewable energy sources are generally less susceptible to climate change impacts. So more use of renewable sources may contribute to a better climate-proofed power infrastructure.”

We look forward to a more aggressive push in expanding the renewable energy portfolios on the part of these Western state power distribution entities.


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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.



  • Terry Hill

    It’s time for “clean slate” approach to the utility grid. Renewables are mention, not mentioned are “negawatts” inherent in the existing building infrastructure, the role direct current (DC), both inside the envelope and as the core of an islandable Microgrid and the need for not only grid but also structural resiliency.

    We have to look at the entire energy landscape, generation, loads, archecticture, technological advancement, sustainability and involving the consumer in the solution. It is no longer viable for the vested interests to be the ones running the show, new points of view are needed if a new vision is going to emerge. All the pieces are either there or about to enter the market.

  • Hazel

    This is interesting. Some would see the headline and think “Hydro is in trouble.” But the authors say, “Renewable energy sources are generally less susceptible to climate change impacts.” The reality is that coal and natural gas plants use a ton of water. The Department of Energy’s report Water-Energy Nexus highlights this. In fact, the rate of water use by electricity production is very close to the net draw-down rate of our aquifers.

    But wind and solar energy need no water. Nor do grid tied batteries. And this is a really big deal for water sustainability, especially in the desert southwest.

    Arizona utilities would want to get their heads out of the sand.

    • Mike Dill

      The article should have been called “Renewables to ensure power in the future”

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