Climate and Extreme Weather: Implications for Electricity Use and Transmission

Did you know that climate and extreme weather affect electricity transmission and can cause costly power outages? In 2004, the average annual cost of storm-caused transmission outages was 2.5 billion dollars! And that does not account other extreme events such as wildfires. The electric grid consists of over 9,000 electricity generators and more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines. Climate and extreme weather affect the efficiency of the electric grid and energy demand.

Electric Grid

  • When air temperature is higher, electricity systems are less efficient because their current-carrying capacity is reduced. Heat waves can also cause power transformers to fail.
  • High temperatures cause sag of overhead transmission lines creating a risk for fire and power outages.
  • Increased frequency of severe wildfires increases the risk of physical damage to electricity systems and reduces the transmission capacity due to high heat.
  • Drought increases the chance of wildfires occurring, posing a risk for electricity transmission.
  • Increased intensity of storms increases risk of physical damage to electricity systems.
  • High amounts of snowfall and intense snowstorms can also cause physical damage to electricity systems.

Demand

  • Increasing air temperatures increase electricity demand for cooling and decrease fuel oil and natural gas demand for heating.
  • Higher magnitude and frequency of extreme heat events has increased electricity peak demand.

Although climate and extreme weather vary regionally, impacts in one region can have broad effects because energy systems are interconnected. For example, Superstorm Sandy led to more than 8 million customers losing power in 21 states. Electricity production and distribution systems are designed to respond to daily changes in weather, meaning that short-term fluctuations are expected. Extreme weather and longer-term climate events force the electric grid to work outside of the range for which it was designed.

(Source: United States Department of Energy. 2013. U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather. 83 pp. and Mideksa, T.K. and S. Kallbekken. 2010. The Impact of Climate Change on the Electricity Market: A Review. Energy Policy 38:3579-3585.)

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