U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather

This Department of Energy report provides an assessment of how the effects of climate change have impacted and will impact the production, delivery, and storage of energy. The report is organized by climate impact, exploring various aspects of energy production and transmission related to each. It offers real world examples of threatened facilities and describes current adaptation actions underway.  The report also suggests steps to improve adaptive capacity by investing in technology and equipment, improving policies to allow for better technology deployment, advancing analytics and monitoring to allow for more informed decisions, and increasing engagement between stakeholders and user communities to facilitate better planning and operations.  

The introduction of the report focuses on establishing the ways that the energy sector has been impacted by climate change. It includes recent examples of nuclear, coal, hydroelectric, and other energy facilities that have been damaged or interrupted because of climate change and extreme weather. It also summarizes more generally how various components of the energy sector (oil exploration, fuel transport, hydropower, etc.) are likely to be impacted by climate change (see table ES-1 below). The introduction notes that while climate impacts on different regions and energy sectors may vary, the interconnectivity of energy systems means that vulnerabilities can still impact regions they are not directly affecting and can even create compounding consequences.

Chapter one looks at projections for increasing air temperatures and how they could affect the energy sector. Potential vulnerabilities the chapter identifies are increased electricity demand for cooling and forced changes to energy operations in Alaska because of thawing permafrost. The chapter also mentions the possibility of reduced efficiency for transmission systems and thermoelectric power generation.

Chapter two concentrates on decreasing water availability, pointing out that it could disrupt thermoelectric facility cooling, oil and gas production during drought, barge transport, hydropower generation capacity, and bioenergy production.

Chapter three discusses increased storm frequency and intensity, flooding, and sea-level rise. The chapter examines the effects of increased storm intensity on electric transmission and distribution lines, sea-level rise and storm surge on coastal thermoelectric facilities, and flooding frequency and intensity on rail and barge energy transportation.

Chapter four shifts focus to current and potential adaptation actions to address energy sector vulnerabilities. The chapter presents examples of adaptation measures that have been put in place to combat the effects of climate change, as well as numerous additional climate assessments. It also discusses opportunities within the energy sector to utilize new ideas and technology to better adapt to climate change.


Publication Date: July 2013

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Related Organizations:

  • Department of Energy


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Resource Types:

  • Assessment


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