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News Release 15-055

Drought, heat likely to affect U.S. West's power grid

Scientists recommend looking at power plants' capacities in view of expected changes

cracked, dry soil

Expected increases in drought will affect the U.S. power grid, scientists have found.

May 18, 2015

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Electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in the U.S. West should be "climate-proofed" to decrease the risk of future power shortages, according to new research results.

Expected increases in extreme heat and drought will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density and humidity, write scientists Matthew Bartos and Mikhail Chester of Arizona State University in a paper published in the current issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Water, Sustainability and Climate (WSC) Program.

"Society depends on agriculture, energy and water availability to prosper," said Tom Torgersen, NSF WSC program director. "Security in these areas requires an understanding of the complex links between humans and nature."

Changing conditions could limit energy production

The authors say that changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy generation capacity of power plants--unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate.

The scientists report that power stations are particularly vulnerable to the climate conditions predicted to occur within the next half-century.

"In their development plans, power providers are not taking into account climate change effects," Bartos said. "They are likely overestimating their ability to meet future electricity needs."

U.S. West will see higher demand in years to come

The U.S. West in particular is expected to see greater energy demand due to population growth and higher temperatures.

Bartos and Chester say that power plants should strengthen their transmission capacities and conservation strategies if they are to remain capable of reliably supplying power as conditions change.

Scientists recommend that power providers consider climate constraints

Power providers also should invest in more resilient renewable energy sources and consider local climate constraints when selecting sites for new generation facilities, the researchers said.

"Diverse arrays of energy-generation technologies are used by the U.S. West's power grid," said Chester.

The scientists looked at five power-generating technologies: hydroelectric facilities, steam, wind and combustion turbines, as well as photovoltaics.

"We're finding that some power generation technologies may be more climate-resilient than others," Chester said.

"Renewable energy sources are generally less susceptible to climate change effects. More use of renewable sources may contribute to a better climate-proofed power infrastructure."


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:
Joe Kullman, ASU, (480) 965-8122, email:

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