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Engineering LibreTexts

17.1: Background

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  • In 2018 the US economy consumed over 100 quads of energy. A quad is equal to 29 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh), where a kWh is roughly equivalent to the amount of energy required to operate your average toaster for one hour continuously. Of this 29 trillion kWh, 80% was supplied by burning fossil fuels,8% by nuclear fission, and the remaining 12% were derived from a constellation of renewable resources (Figure 17.1.1).

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): A flowchart of 2018 US Energy Consumption and Production developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories

    As discussed in other parts of this manual, global society’s reliance on fossil fuels is a key factor in changing climate. One of the ironies of this dependence is that the climatic changes wrought by the use of these fuels threatens the structures used to produce and deliver energy derived from those and other resources. The infographic you will be using in these activities looks at key elements of the United States energy infrastructure that have been affected by extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other climatic stressors during the 21st century. This graphic was developed in 2013 by the US Department of Energy to summarize their report on this topic.

    As shown in Figure 17.1.2, the report lists five climatic conditions that pose some type of threat to the U. S. Energy Infrastructure. These conditions include the following…

    • Increasing temperature – Included in this are rising air and water temperatures, increase in the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme heat events, and melting permafrost.
    • Decreasing water availability – Though it is generally agreed that a warming world will be a wetter one, this is not a consistent trend. While some areas see increased precipitation, others see longer and more intense drought.
    • Increasing storms and flooding – With a warmer world comes additional heat energy fueling stronger storms. With these comes increased, high intensity precipitation resulting in increased flooding.
    • Sea level change – Unlike flooding associated with heavy precipitation, sea level change results in flooding that can take place during clear as well as stormy weather. Furthermore, violent storms such as hurricanes often produce storm surges that augment high tides and heavy precipitation.
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