Climate Change Putting Electricity Generation At Risk

LONDON - - Lost life, ecosystem damage, power cuts, job losses and increasingly expensive electricity is the price we pay if governments fail to make their power generation systems more climate-resilient.

That's what scientists from the Institute for Development Studies are warning in a report which concludes that no system of generating energy -- not even renewable energy like solar or wind power -- is immune to the effects of climate change.

Tackling the disaster risk to nuclear power generation, the report says quakes, cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons and flooding can have a devastating impact on nuclear power plants. It cites the crisis triggered at Japan's Fukushima plant when an earthquake and tsunami struck the country in March.

"Extreme weather events like storms and floods which can damage nuclear power plants — this is one of the most challenging issues in energy planning today," said Frauke Urban, lead author of the report published by the Strengthening Climate Resilience consortium.

"Climate change is another risk for government and energy companies where they really need to rethink the energy planning for the future," she added.

Nuclear power accounts for about 6 percent of global energy generation.

Like all power plants, nuclear facilities could face damage to its equipment from floods. Conversely, a drop in rainfall, a rise in temperature or a drought could reduce the amount of available water needed for cooling reactors, potentially posing a serious threat to public safety.

"Siting of major infrastructure, especially energy infrastructure needs to be done very carefully now," said Saleemul Huq, expert on climate change development and senior fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Huq said although human civilizations have been adjusting to shifts in weather conditions for centuries, the current changes present bigger and different challenges.

"The issue with human-induced climate change is that many of the traditional climactic events are either going to get more intense or more frequent," he said.

A severe storm that would normally hit a region once every 100 years may now come once every 20 years and with more devastating results.

And, Huq said, technological advancements mean the disaster is more dangerous than ever before. For example, the immediate impact of the Japan tsunami was less worrying than the risks posed by the power plant facing a nuclear meltdown, he added.

Natural disasters pose a similar risk to fossil fuel plants as nuclear plants, while high temperatures could reduce generation efficiency and lower the output of electricity.

Meanwhile, hydropower systems, the most common renewable energy systems at present, are particularly vulnerable to extreme drought.

Countries like Ghana and Ethiopia are already feeling the effects, the report's Urban said. Both rely heavily on hydropower but have experienced droughts in recent years that have limited their energy generation.

Another threat to power generation occurs when extreme weather such as hurricanes and tropical storms prevent offshore drilling for oil and gas, the report said.

While handling these changes and new disaster risks can be difficult, Huq said it is not impossible, even for poorer nations.

"A poor country can be better organized than a rich country," he said, noting the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in the United States.

"There is a definite requirement for both technology and financial resources to be able to do it but money and technology are not enough. A lot of it is to do with human institutional planning," he said.


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