How climate change makes it harder to keep the lights on

By Brad Plumer, The Washington Post — Coal plants are shutting down because of a lack of cooling water. Hydropower dams are struggling to generate electricity because reservoir levels are dropping. Western wildfires are damaging power lines, causing blackouts in cities like San Diego.

A recreational boat cruises Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam. (Jonathan Gibby/For the Washington Post)

A recreational boat cruises Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam. (Jonathan Gibby/For the Washington Post)

There are all sorts of ways that nature can wreak havoc on the U.S. energy system, making it difficult to keep the lights on. But as humans heat up the planet, these sorts of disruptions are likely to become even more common in the decades ahead.

That’s the upshot of a big new assessment (pdf) from the Department of Energy, which argues that large swaths of America’s aging energy infrastructure — from nuclear reactors and barges transporting coal to oil rigs and power lines — are at risk from the effects of global warming. Heat waves, droughts, flooding, and wildfires could all put a heavy strain on key energy services in the decades ahead, costing Americans billions. Read more.

Posted July 12, 2013