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  • Kendall Plein

Higher Temperatures Can Hinder Energy Generation. In a Warming World That’s a Problem

Renewable energy is a critical component of the 21st-century energy landscape. We must shift to renewables like solar and wind to cut carbon emissions and mitigate the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change. However, climate change has already begun destabilizing weather patterns, meaning renewable resources that rely on the weather will experience variable outputs. Additionally, increased energy demand and aging infrastructure will create dangerous blackout situations in extreme weather conditions. The technologies must adapt to these new conditions or risk a severe shortfall in meeting energy demand.

solar panel on straw roof
Solar panel on straw roof. Credit: Pixabay/teresa cotrim

More countries are investing in renewable energy to mitigate climate change and provide affordable, clean energy. Solar and wind energy are inexhaustible, unlike coal, oil and natural gas. However, solar and wind are not consistently reliable. The main issue with solar and wind is the intermittent energy supply with windless and overcast days producing less energy output. For this reason, solar and wind must be paired with battery storage or other energy sources for grid reliability. However, battery storage technology for large-scale infrastructure is still in development, and backup energy sources are often fossil-fuel-based, such as natural gas.

As the impacts of climate change mount, today’s weather patterns may not be the same in a couple of decades. Also, climate change does not affect the planet evenly. In some regions of the world, photovoltaic outputs are expected to double, while others are expected to be cut in half. Additionally, higher temperatures inhibit solar panels’ ability to function optimally. With increased energy demand and changing conditions, we may see even larger disparities between the energy output of renewables and society’s energy needs.

Hydroelectricity is a popular renewable energy around the world, in both developed and developing countries. Hydroelectricity can provide large amounts of power, but it’s susceptible to variations in output under climate change. Drought is its Achilles' heel.

Unfortunately, like many other regions globally, California is experiencing increased droughts under climate change. For example, in the 2012-2016 California drought, lower precipitation levels, melted snow and streamflow reduced hydroelectric output. Hydropower typically accounts for 13% of California’s energy, but during the four-year drought period, it only accounted for 6%. Such a substantial drop in energy output creates high-risk situations during times when energy reliability is imperative.

The current situation in California is even more severe. With 100% of the state gripped by drought as of June 2021, hydroelectric generation is expected to be 19% lower than in 2020, according to the Short-Term Energy Outlook.

The U.S., along with many other countries, has an aging, inefficient energy grid. The infrastructure is slow and ill-equipped for modern energy needs. Under extreme weather events, like heatwaves, energy demands increase mainly due to air conditioning. With increased electrification, more energy will be needed for things that once ran on fossil fuels, like electric vehicles. All these changes in energy demand are in response to climate change, either for adaptation or mitigation. Failing to upgrade aging infrastructure guarantees blackouts and system failures.

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Climate change will continue to cause increased weather variability and extreme conditions. The energy grid and many other aspects of life will be drastically impacted by climate change. Unfortunately, without consciously adapting to climate change, we will only see the negative impacts compound to dangerous levels.


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