Verchick in Slate: Connecting the Dots Between Climate Change and Our Vulnerable Energy Grid

Brian Gumm

Aug. 29, 2016

It's common knowledge that our energy choices impact the planet's climate, but less widely known is how climate change and its intensified storms, heat waves, droughts, and water shortages affect our energy grid. Already vulnerable, the grid can suffer catastrophic damage when a storm like Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy strikes. 

In an Aug. 26 article in Slate, Center for Progressive Reform Board President Rob Verchick explores these vulnerabilities and connects the dots between climate change and the grid. He writes:

From rancid food to emergency-room nightmares, communities take a punch when the lights go out. The nation's aging power grid leaves us very susceptible to such risks. And the growing intensity of floods and storms on account of climate change make things even worse.

We hear a lot about how energy policy will affect climate impacts. Less appreciated, but equally important, are the ways that climate impacts will affect energy policy.

Consider:

  • Extreme weather events juiced up by global warming will knock out power plants and transmission systems across the continent.  
  • Rising seas and higher tides will swamp some of our most important power plants and substations on the coasts.  
  • Higher temperatures will slow high-voltage transmission speeds and increase outages related to sagging power lines. (And because more air conditioners will be blowing, electricity demand will jump at the same time.)  
  • Water shortages and warming rivers will suppress production at thermal power plants and hydroelectric dams in many parts of the country.

Verchick continues:

Making the grid climate-ready requires forward-looking policies that will spur change in technology, operations, and markets. Such reforms are barely under way, and still more are needed: If we fail to account for the climate's impact on our energy system and don't start addressing them now, we'll leave our children and grandchildren with a massive infrastructure problem—one that will affect their personal safety and economic well-being.

You can read the rest of Verchick's article on Slate's website.

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