Extreme climatic events like those affecting Texas and the Pacific Northwest have provided an early warning for events to come and have shown that money and lives are at risk when people cannot receive electricity from energy-decision makers whom they rely on to ensure its delivery. As Jaramillo and her team show, energy planning that doesn’t account for the effects of climate change will result in tremendous societal costs.
Their study found that across the U.S. overall electricity demand will rise, and demand peaks during the summer will disproportionately intensify. Increased demand and increases in the size of demand peaks, in particular, will necessitate an increase in generation capacity. However, increased demand has not been the only factor at play in recent events. Environmental extremes related to climate change also can damage energy infrastructure or push equipment past its parameters for safe operation, forcing system operators to shut it down. Even when operational, the strain placed on generating equipment by increased extremes in climate could reduce the available capacity at individual power plants, a process known as “derating.”
Obviously, there is now more awareness of the risks of climate impacts on power systems. It is also interesting to note that changes in investment decisions to mitigate climate-induced risks can also support carbon emissions reductions, which highlights that mitigation and adaptation strategies can align.
Francisco Ralston Fonseca et al, Climate-Induced Tradeoffs in Planning and Operating Costs of a Regional Electricity System, Environmental Science & Technology (2021). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c01334