Climate Change and US Energy Infrastructure

Climate Change and US Energy Infrastructure

According to a recent GAO report (, US energy infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to a number of different climate change impact effects, increasing the risk of disruptions of energy critical for US economic growth and operation, such as:

• Resource extraction/processing infrastructure. Dangers exist to oil and gas platforms, refineries, and processing plants which are often located in areas vulnerable to severe weather and sea level rise.

• Fuel transportation/storage infrastructure. Pipelines, railways and storage tanks are susceptible to damage from severe weather, melting permafrost, and increased rain hampering getting the necessary fuel to the power plant or facility.

• Electricity generation. Power plants, which often are the only source of electricity in a wide region, are vulnerable to severe weather effects and water shortages.

• Electricity transmission and distribution. Power lines and substations are susceptible to severe weather and stressed by rising demand for electricity as temperatures rise.

What can be done to help reduce climate-related risks and adapt energy systems to growing climate-related impacts? Options generally fall into two broad categories—hardening and resiliency. Hardening measures involve physical changes to improve the durability of specific pieces of infrastructure and reducing damage from severe storms or other climate change adverse effects. An example would be elevating and sealing all water-sensitive energy equipment. Resiliency measures allow energy systems to continue operating after an event and/or to recover more quickly to allow a company or municipality to resume operations more quickly. This is critical to maintain credibility (and profits). Examples include installing back-up generators and having and executing a plan to generally ramp up operations.

The GAO report states that most of the changes necessary to adapt operations to the adverse effects of climate change must occur at the local government and private levels, although some federal support can occur. Energy infrastructure adaptation is best accomplished by good planning and design. Some useful approaches by local municipal and private entities include:

•   Dedicate time and effort to implement formal policies toward climate change adaptation, including opportunities for hardening and resilience. This should become a formal part of business for most companies and municipalities;

•   Design more resilient, lower maintenance roadways, bridges, facilities and roads with an eye on updated flooding map zones;

•   Incorporate materials which will perform well in weather extremes;

•   Better management of greater precipitation runoff including pavement redesign and strengthening its conveyance system to prevent erosion and damage;

•   Stronger and lower maintenance bridge design, looking to long-term and emergency evacuation usefulness;

•   Maintain proper wetlands to ensure water uptake during floods/erosion resiliency;

•   Larger capacity pumps/pump stations to mitigate key road flooding;

•   Improve infrastructure to resist more freeze-thaw, deep frosts and droughts; and

•   Encourage residents/businesses/workers to reduce demand on electric grid.

CCES has the technical experts to help your building, company, or municipality understand potential impacts of extreme weather and help you plan to reduce the risks and increase the speed in which you bounce back from events. The time to plan and act to prevent major losses is now. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at

Marc Karell, P.E., CEM, Principal, Climate Change & Environmental Services, LLC



Reprinted with permission by CCES


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