Energy Commission Releases “Climate Change and the California Energy Sector”

20 Dec 2013

Climate change is likely to compromise energy supplies, particularly during temperature peaks when demand will be exacerbated. Principal impacts on energy supply could be reduced electricity output from thermal power plants, lower capacity of the transmission and distribution infrastructure to deliver electricity, damage to infrastructure from extreme weather events, and changes in the availability and timing of renewable energy resources.

A report released December 17, 2013 by the Energy Commission, "Climate Change and the California Energy Sector," summarizes what has been learned about energy sector vulnerability, what research needs remain to better understand potential impacts  and  preparedness options, and key policy issues. Authors are David Stoms, Guido Franco, Heather Raitt, Susan Wilhelm, and Sekita Grant.

Several recent sources of information discuss how climate has been changing in California and how it may evolve in the rest of this century.  The State has sponsored research on climate change, particularly on improved methods for modeling regional climate scenarios and sea‐level rise that support vulnerability assessments for the energy sector.

Analysis of historical data provides evidence of increasing temperatures in California and changes in the spring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada that are likely caused primarily by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Nighttime minimum temperatures in particular have been increasing in recent decades.

Climate projections suggest that heat waves will increase in frequency, last longer, start earlier in the year and end later, and will become hotter than in the historical record. Precipitation in California is highly variable, and this high variability will continue to be a feature of California’s climate in the future. Projections imply a potential for more frequent inland flooding in the future. As mean sea level rises, the frequency and magnitude of extremes would increase markedly. High sea‐level surges that used to occur very infrequently in the historical period would become very common by the end of this century and would last for extended periods.

The paper identifies future research needs to help the energy sector prepare for climate change and then concludes with key policy issues. Key recommendations include:

• Sponsor research on regional climate projections, energy sector vulnerability, and strategies to reduce climate risk.

• Fund research, development, and demonstration for technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

• Support actions that provide both reductions in GHG emissions and preparation for climate risks.

• Expand support for Cal‐Adapt and CaLEAP, tools that assist local planning efforts.

• Assess the vulnerability of transportation fuel infrastructure to climate change.

• Continue to coordinate climate change research by California agencies.

You can download a copy here.

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