WASHINGTON (AP) — Climate change and extreme weather already are causing disruptions in the U.S. energy supply that are likely to worsen as more intense storms, higher temperatures and more frequent droughts occur, the government says in a new report.
The report, released Thursday by the Energy Department, says blackouts and other problems caused by Superstorm Sandy and other extreme weather events are likely to be repeated across the country as an aging energy infrastructure struggles to adapt to rising seas, higher storm surges and increased flooding. A range of energy sources are at risk, from coal-fired power plants to oil wells, hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants.
Climate-related disasters have already costs tens of billions of dollars, and the report says costs could grow exponentially unless a more comprehensive and accelerated response is adopted.
On the Gulf Coast, for instance, the report cites a study by an energy company and wetland foundation projecting that by 2030, nearly $1 trillion in energy assets in the region will be at risk from rising sea levels and more intense hurricanes. Based on an analysis of hazards, assets and vulnerabilities, the Gulf Coast energy sector faces an average annual loss from climate change and extreme weather of $8 billion in 2030, the report said.
The report urges private companies, governments and research institutions to take action to further understand the risks of climate change and reduce them. The report does not offer immediate recommendations, but says power plants and oil companies should use less water and recycle what they use.
Electricity providers should harden transmission grids and build emergency backup systems, the report says, and operators of hydroelectric dams should improve turbine efficiency. The report also recommends that governments and utilities work together to reduce demand for electricity.
"Water is obviously the big question," said Jonathan Pershing, deputy assistant secretary of energy for climate change policy and technology, who oversaw the report. "In drought you don't have enough water. As seas rise, you have too much."
While the risks from drought, floods and hurricanes are clear, water plays an important role in less obvious ways as well, Pershing said. Both coal-fired and nuclear power plants, for instance, need large volumes of water for cooling. As temperatures rise, that becomes more difficult.