The tsunami that has thrown Japan into a nuclear disaster is a powerful reminder that when weather events exceed our predictions, our most basic infrastructure can suffer the consequences.
“Our hospitals, homes, and economy depend on an energy infrastructure that will be increasingly disrupted by extreme weather events related to climate change,” said Amanda Staudt, Ph.D., NWF climate scientist and author of the report "More Extreme Weather and the U.S. Energy Infrastructure."
But there’s some very good news: The steps necessary to make our energy supply kinder to the planet are the same steps that will protect it from the worst the weather can deliver.
“The nation must transition to more efficient, low-carbon, energy sources and a less vulnerable infrastructure,” says Michael Breen, vice president of the Truman National Security Project. The Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board concluded in 2009 that, “fossil fuels, as well as the nation’s fragile electricity grid, pose significant security threats to the country as a whole and the military in particular.”
It’s the oldest and dirtiest aspects of our energy supply that are most threatened, according to the NWF study. Increasingly powerful hurricanes jeopardize the oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf. Flooding will disrupt coal transport in the Midwest and Northeast. Conventional electricity generation in the Southwest will be hampered by water shortages and more extreme heat, but solar power will thrive.
Boosting use of distributed generation will minimize the effect of blackouts caused by storms. At present, almost 90 percent of electricity in the United States is generated in thermoelectric power plants that require water for cooling. With droughts expected to increase in frequency and intensity, we will have to move to other means of power production. Appropriately-sited offshore wind and distributed photovoltaic solar systems are depend less on water resources and are more resilient; they also contribute far less to air and carbon pollution. Of course, increasing our energy efficiency remains the cheapest, most effective way to, ahem, insulate ourselves from pollution and extreme weather.