South Carolina is vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding, coastal storms and increasing temperatures – all which threaten the state’s agriculture and energy industries as well as human health
South Carolina’s climate is already changing. Most of the state has warmed by one-half to one degree Fahrenheit in the last century, and the sea is rising about one to one-and-a-half inches every decade. The Southeast in general is exceptionally susceptible to extreme heat, more frequent and more intense hurricanes, and decreased water availability. South Carolina is also vulnerable to sea level rise, which poses continuing threats to the state’s coastal economy and environment. In the coming decades, the region’s changing climate is likely to reduce crop yields, harm livestock, increase the number of unpleasantly hot days, and increase the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.
- Sea level rise: Sea level is rising more rapidly in South Carolina than in other areas because South Carolina is also subsiding. If the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, sea level along the South Carolina coast is likely to rise one to four feet in the next century. Rising sea level submerges wetlands and dry land, erodes beaches, and exacerbates coastal flooding.
- Flooding: Increasing temperatures and precipitation amplify the risk of flooding. Since 1958, the amount of precipitation falling during heavy rainstorms has increased by 27 percent in the Southeast, and the trend toward increasingly heavy rainstorms is likely to continue. The October 2015 floods, which cost the state as much as $12 billion, demonstrate the impacts of a changed climate. Scientists said that in this case, climate change “worsened the effects of an already extreme weather event.”
- Coastal storms: As the ocean warms, surface waters have more energy to convert to tropical cyclone winds, which scientists say is likely increasing the intensity of the most severe cyclonic events. This trend is strongest in the Atlantic, where rising ocean temperatures correlate closely to an increase in Atlantic tropical cyclone strength. More frequent storms could increase the deductible for wind damage in homeowner insurance policies. People may also move from vulnerable coastal communities and stress the infrastructure of the communities that receive them.
- Increasing Temperatures: The southeast will likely be hit hardest by heat impacts. The number of days at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will increase from an average of 9 per year to 17-43 by mid-century. Higher temperatures will likely reduce the productivity of farms and ranches, change parts of the landscape and harm human health. In addition, warmer weather will decrease productivity in high-risk sectors like construction, mining, utilities, transportation and manufacturing.
- Adaptation: South Carolina has not developed a climate adaptation plan. Without action on climate, the South Carolina coast will see an additional $743 million in annual damages by 2050, and by then $5.7 billion worth of property will be under water, according to one estimate.
South Carolina residents support clean energy and climate regulations
- According to the Yale Map Project on Climate Change Communication 67% of South Carolina residents recognize that global warming is happening. The project finds that 72% of residents support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and 82% support funding research into renewable energy sources.
South Carolina shows significant potential for solar, currently untapped
- Renewable Portfolio Standard: In 2014, South Carolina enacted a renewable portfolio standard authorizing the creation of distributed energy resource programs to encourage the development of in-state renewable energy generation capacity. In 2015, renewable energy resources accounted for 5.3% of South Carolina’s net electricity generation; almost 56% of that generation came from conventional hydroelectric power.
- Solar: South Carolina ranks 27th in the nation for installed solar capacity, with 143 MW currently installed or enough to power 16,000 homes. The solar industry employs 2,700 people across 67 companies in the value chain. This is in sharp contrast to North Carolina, which ranks second with a total installed capacity of 3,287 MW.
- Wind: South Carolina houses 15 wind manufacturing facilities, but the state has no installed wind capacity.
- Electricity: In 2015, South Carolina was eighth in the nation in per capita retail electricity sales, in part because of high air conditioning demand during the hot summer months and the widespread use of electricity for home heating in winter.
- Nuclear: South Carolina’s four nuclear power plants supplied 55% of the state’s net electricity generation in 2015. Two new reactors are under construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station site in Fairfield County.