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Recent Study Finds Climate Change Threatening California’s Power Grid


Power Lines in CaliforniaClimate change has been studied in its effect on various human activities, including agriculture, health, water supplies, and of course, the weather. Effects on the power grid, though, haven’t been scrutinized as thoroughly until a recent study completed by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [BL].

We already know that climate change is forcing temperatures higher on average, and this trend looks to continue through the end of the century., but what impact is it going to have on power grids?

Larry Dale, a BL economist, estimates that California will need to increase power generation and transmission capacity by up to 40%. Higher temperatures have an adverse effect on power grid function, because higher temperatures increase electrical resistance.

Higher temperatures also drive increasing demand, as businesses and residents consume more energy for air conditioning. The current power grid is already stressed by current demands, so increased demand in the future could lead to more blackouts and power failures.

Aside from the demand, the power grid’s supply is also being threatened by climate change, increasing temperatures leading to rising sea levels. Up to 25 coastal power plants and over 80 substations are at risk for flooding if sea levels rise, as well as from storm surges driven by more powerful weather systems.

The BL report mentions, “While we predict that climate change will increase the cost of providing electricity, if properly anticipated, the frequency of electricity outages should not increase. Anticipated impacts of climate change can be addressed with increases in generating, transmission and distribution capacity, as well as through improvements to equipment design.”

Dale’s next step will be to model the California power grid and put it to the test with the addition of more renewable power sources and better transmission technology. “I’d like to be able to model the system and also model when the system is surprised and an unplanned event occurs. There is another set of costs of not enough planning to deal with an extreme event, such as a hot summer day 50 years from now.”

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