Climate Impacts & The Power Grid

power grid with solar panel

Climate change is fueling extreme impacts and challenging our grid

Climate change is already fueling extreme heat, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes, and the toll these climate events are imposing on our power grid is unfortunate but not surprising. 

The 2018 National Climate Assessment warned of more frequent and longer-lasting power outages, which are slated to only get worse as climate impacts become more prevalent. Data from the Energy Information Association reflects this changing reality as the average power outage for U.S. customers has been increasing due to major weather events. 

More than 90% of power outages result from failures in electricity distribution systems (weather-related events that damage poles and wires). Yet, major blackouts in California in August 2020 and Texas in February 2021, as well as some more recent close calls, demonstrate ways that climate impacts are overwhelming our power grid’s ability to meet demand, keep the lights on and heating and cooling systems running. 

Disinformation runs rampant

Bad-faith actors have falsely claimed these events were caused by renewable energy. A final analysis determined the root cause of the 2020 rolling blackouts in California was poor planning combined with a climate change-induced extreme heat event that pushed electricity demand to exceed supply. Blackouts in Texas in February 2021 resulted primarily from a failure of gas infrastructure and power plants that were not adequately weatherized — despite having endured similar problems in a 2011 cold snap. There is also growing evidence that climate change is driving an increase in polar vortex disruptions that result in severe winter weather in mid-latitude regions

While mainstream and local media have correctly attributed the causes for these grid failures, analysis from Friends of the Earth found that right-wing outlets and fossil fuel-funded interests have exploited social media to spread disinformation.

Grid failures caused or exacerbated by fossil fuel resources 

Our electricity grid has historically relied on legacy generators like gas and coal power plants. These technologies are not immune to failure, as evidenced by numerous recent examples:

Clean resources are keeping the lights on

Despite attempts by the fossil fuel industry and its allies to incorrectly shift blame, integrating more renewable energy can boost grid resilience, and wean us off the fossil fuels that are making climate impacts worse. Clean resources are already delivering to help enhance reliability: 

Disproportionate impacts 

Power outages during extreme weather events expose and amplify existing inequities so engrained they are built into our electric grid system: 

Reliable, clean electricity is essential. Ensuring equitable access to it for all in the face of increasingly severe impacts of climate change requires rethinking how we plan for resilience — and not simply doubling down on outdated power generation technologies.

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