Guest essay by Eric Worrall

According to climate scientists Ethan Coffel and Justin Mankin, we need to replace coal, gas and nuclear plants with solar and wind, because they are less affected by the heat of global warming.

Guest post: How global warming is making power plants produce less electricity

15 February 2021  8:00

Dr Ethan Coffel, assistant professor and climate scientist at Syracuse University

Dr Justin Mankin, assistant professor and climate scientist at Dartmouth College

The coal, gas and nuclear power plants that generate mostof the world’s electricity have to be kept cool in order to function properly. However, this will be increasingly challenging as the world gets warmer.

Waste heat from these facilities is typically released into the atmosphere or nearby water sources. During heatwaves or droughts, excessive heat or a lack of water makes it much harder for plants to be kept cool. 

When this happens, the plants must be curbed, meaning electricity output is cut. This often comes just as electricity demand peaks due to people’s increasing reliance on air conditioning to keep cool.

In a new paper, published in Environmental Research Letters, we find that in a warming world, hundreds of additional power plants would need to be constructed in the coming decades simply to make up for this lost power.

However, this is not the only option. If nations instead focus on technologies such as solar and wind, which produce fewer emissions and are less impacted by hot weather, the electricity sector will be both less of a contributor to – and victim of – climate change.

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The study predicts an 0.8-1.2% falloff per degree of global warming, so not exactly a pressing emergency.

What about global warming induced severe winter weather? Climate scientists have rushed to assure us the Northern Hemisphere’s deep freeze is not incompatible with global warming. But as Texas recently noticed, solar panels and wind turbines don’t work that well when they are covered with ice.

Perhaps in the warmer future climate scientists expect, when snowfalls and freezing rain are a thing of the past, it might be worth considering solar and wind. But so long as severe winter weather is a possibility, surely it makes more sense to hang on to reliable power generation systems, maybe beef up the cooling systems a little so they can handle more heat in Summer.

via Watts Up With That?

February 16, 2021 at 05:21PM