Even green energy is vulnerable to global warming

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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America’s energy infrastructure is vulnerable to global warming, says a new government report — including even green energy sources.

Democrats asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the impact global warming will have on U.S. energy infrastructure,  such as pipelines and power lines. The GAO found that not only would power plants, drilling rigs and power lines be affected, but so would green energy production.

“Renewable energy sources generally produce much lower emissions of greenhouse gases, the primary anthropogenic driver of climate change,” the GAO said. “However, these sources can also be affected by climate change, given their dependence on water resources, wind patterns, and solar radiation.”

Democrats and environmentalists have been warning that global warming will make weather more extreme — meaning more events like droughts, storms and wildfires. Renewable energy sources, which rely on sunshine and weather for power, will especially be affected.

“Hydropower — a major source of electricity in some regions of the United States, particularly the Northwest — is highly sensitive to a number of climactic changes,” the GAO said, adding that “rising temperatures can reduce the amount of water available for hydropower — due to increased evaporation — and degrade habitats for fish and other wildlife.”

It’s not only hydropower that would be affected, but wind and solar power as well, which depend on abundant water supplies and good weather to operate effectively. The GAO reports that “photovoltaic energy production could be affected by changes in haze, humidity, and dust. Higher temperatures can also reduce the effectiveness of photovoltaic electricity generation. On the other hand, concentrating solar power (CSP) systems — unlike photovoltaic cells — require extensive amounts of water for cooling purposes, making them susceptible to water shortages.”

Wind power, on the other hand, does not consume water, which could make it an alternative for renewable energy in water scarce regions. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be impacted by global warming.

“[W]ind energy cannot be naturally stored, and the natural variability of wind speeds can have a significant positive or negative impact on the amount of energy produced. Wind turbines are also subject to extreme weather,” reports the GAO.

Luckily for the U.S., only a small portion of its electricity comes from renewable energy — most comes from coal and natural gas. According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy — including hydropower — made up 12 percent of the country’s power generation in 2012. Wind and solar, however, only made up 3.46 percent and 0.11 percent of energy generation in 2012, respectively.

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