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Energy


Changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level, and the frequency and severity of extreme events will likely affect how much energy is produced, delivered, and consumed in the United States.

Energy plays an important role in many aspects of our lives. For example, we use electricity for lighting and cooling. We use fuel for transportation, heating, and cooking. Our energy production and use is interconnected with many other aspects of modern life, such as water consumption, use of goods and services, transportation, economic growth, land use, and population growth. Our production and use of energy (most of which comes from fossil fuels) also contributes to climate change, accounting for more than 80% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. [1]

Increases in temperature will likely change how much energy we consume, as well as our ability to produce electricity and deliver it reliably.

Energy demand is expected to shift by the end of the century. The number of "degree days" refers to the sum of the number of degrees that the days average temperature is hotter or colder than 65°F over the course of a year. The number of heating degree days is expected to decrease while the number of cooling degree days is projected to increase by 2080-2099. Source: USGCRP (2009)

The U.S. Department of Energy led the development of a report published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program that investigates the impact of climate change on energy production and use in the United States.

The report summarizes the ways climate change will affect how Americans produce and use energy. It highlights the importance of adapting our energy systems to the projected impacts of climate change, but emphasizes that more research is needed to inform these adaptation decisions.

Energy and water systems are connected. Energy is needed to pump, transport, and treat drinking water and wastewater. Cooling water is needed to run many of todays power plants. Hydroelectricity (electricity produced by running water) is itself an important source of power in some parts of the United States.

Changes in precipitation, increased risk of drought, reduced snowpack, and changes in the timing of snowmelt in spring will likely influence our patterns of energy and water use. For example:

Before and after photographs of the "Mars" offshore drilling and production platform, damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico. Source: CCSP (2008) (PDF)

Power plants susceptible to sea level rise in Florida. The bar graph shows the percent of operating plant capacity potentially impacted by several sea level rise scenarios. Source: CCSP (2008) (PDF)

A large portion of U.S. energy infrastructure is located in coastal areas and therefore sensitive to sea level rise and storm surge. For example, fuel ports and the generation and transmission lines that bring electricity to major urban coastal centers are at risk. Changes in the frequency and severity of storms and other extreme events may also damage energy infrastructure.

Disruptions to energy supply due to compromised infrastructure can affect many activities, depending on the destination and final use of the fuel. Coal is used primarily to generate electricity, so disruptions in coal supplies could affect the supply of electricity. Disruptions in the supply of oil would affect the production of transportation fuels. Disruptions in natural gas supply could affect electricity generation, residential and commercial heating, and industrial processes. There are many examples of at-risk energy infrastructure in the United States.

Climate change could impact wind and solar power, but there is little research in this area. Impacts will depend on how wind and cloud cover patterns change, which are very difficult to project using current climate models.

For more information about the RFS, visit EPAs RFS page. For specific information about the environmental assessment, read the First Triennial Report to Congress.

To learn more about how we can adapt our energy production and use to climate change, please see the Energy Adaptation section.

1. EPA (2010). Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2008 (PDF). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

2. USGCRP (2009). Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States . Karl, T.R., J.M. Melillo, and T.C. Peterson (eds.). United States Global Change Research Program. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA.

4. IPCC (2007). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability . Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel. Parry, M.L., O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden, and C.E. Hanson (eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

5.NRC (2008). Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the United States .