The Nation’s energy system is already affected by extreme events and is exacerbated due to the effects of a changing climate. If the energy sector is impacted by compound events, the effects cascade across multiple sectors including the economy and transportation. While adaptive changes are being made to make natural gas and other current fuels more efficient, renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly popular.

 Source: Chapter 4 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment



This figure shows county-level median projected increases in energy expenditures for average 2080–2099 impacts under the higher scenario (RCP8.5). Impacts are changes relative to no additional change in climate {Source: Hsiang et al. 2017}.


Energy systems and the impacts of climate change differ across the United States, but all regions will be affected by a changing climate. The petroleum, natural gas, and electrical infrastructure along the East and Gulf Coasts are at increased risk of damage from rising sea levels and hurricanes of greater intensity. This vulnerable infrastructure serves other parts of the country, so regional disruptions are projected to have national implications. Hawai‘i and the U.S. Caribbean are especially vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather, as they rely on imports of petroleum through coastal infrastructure, ports, and storage facilities. Oil and gas operations in Alaska are vulnerable to thawing permafrost, which, together with sea level rise and dwindling protective sea ice, is projected to damage existing infrastructure and restrict seasonal access; however, a longer ice-free season may enhance offshore energy exploration and transport. More frequent and intense extreme precipitation events are projected to increase the risk of floods for coastal and inland energy infrastructure, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Temperatures are rising in all regions, and these increases are expected to drive greater use of air conditioning. The increase in annual electricity demand across the country for cooling is offset only marginally by the relatively small decline in heating demand that is met with electric power. In addition, higher temperatures reduce the thermal efficiency and generating capacity of thermoelectric power plants and reduce the efficiency and current-carrying capacity of transmission and distribution lines(Source: Chapter 4 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment).

Energy systems in the Northwest and Southwest are likely to experience the most severe impacts of changing water availability, as reductions in mountain snowpack and shifts in snowmelt timing affect hydropower production. Drought will likely threaten fuel production, such as fracking for natural gas and shale oil; enhanced oil recovery in the Northeast, Midwest, Southwest, and Northern and Southern Great Plains; oil refining; and thermoelectric power generation that relies on surface water for cooling. In the Midwest, Northern Great Plains, and Southern Great Plains, higher temperatures and reduced soil moisture will likely make it more difficult to grow biofuel crops and impact the availability of wood and wood waste products for heating, fuel production, and electricity generation (Source: Chapter 4 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment).

As the vast majority of businesses and individuals across the United States count on a secure supply of energy for their operations, nearly everyone can benefit from building resilience across the energy sector. In anticipation of the emerging challenges of climate change, several types of actions may be taken to increase the resilience of energy supply. For instance, actions involving system-level and operational planning—such as modifying existing equipment and/or making sound choices in selecting new facility sites and equipment purchases—can help build resilience. To address energy use, any action that results in reduced energy demand can help relieve stresses on the overall energy system (Source: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit).

Guiding Concepts
  1. How are fundamental energy resources impacted by climate?
  2. How might changes in climate and natural resource availability impact energy conversion infrastructure and processes?
  3. How might climate impact energy transmission and distribution systems?
  4. How might energy demands be impacted by climate change, including heating and cooling but also energy losses and energy used for adaptation by other sectors?
  5. What capacity do we currently have to adapt energy systems, and how might technology solutions, systems designs, and operational changes improve energy system resilience for climate change?
  6. How might climate change impact energy infrastructure and its interactions with networked and interconnected infrastructure systems?

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Updated on April 21, 2021