May 19, 2015 01:52 PM EDT
Two Arizona State University engineers warn that the power grid of the American West must be prepared for the impacts of climate change. The region's entire infrastructure for electricity generation and distribution must be "climate-proofed" to diminish the risk of future power shortages.
Matthew Bartos and Mikhail Chester describe serious changes in air density, air and water temperatures, humidity, and precipitation that will be caused by expected increases in extreme drought and heat events in the current issue of the research journal Nature Climate Change.
The authors caution that unless steps are taken to upgrade technologies and systems to enable power plants to withstand the impacts of a generally drier and hotter climate-the climate the scientific community expects to see arising from changing environmental conditions-they expect to see energy generation significantly hampered.
Bartos is a research scientist in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. The school is part of ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Chester is an assistant professor in the same school, 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," the team reports that power stations are particularly vulnerable to the adverse climatic conditions predicted to occur within the next 50 years.
"In their development plans, power providers are not taking into account climate change impacts," Bartos says. "They are likely overestimating their ability to meet future electricity needs."
The American West is expected to see more population growth which will lead to greater energy demands; unfortunately the region is also expected to experience higher temperatures. Bartos and Chester say power plants can only remain capable of reliably supplying power to the region as climate change continues if they enact conservation strategies and strengthen transmission capacity.
The authors also advise power providers to consider local climatic constraints when selecting sites for new generation facilities and invest in more resilient renewable energy sources.
"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 says.
"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."