Climate change impacts have far-reaching effects on energy systems in the Midwest. In 2018, over 90 percent of the energy in most Midwestern states came from thermoelectric power plants, which use fossil fuel, nuclear material, or biofuel to generate electricity.
Reliance on thermoelectric power poses a climate vulnerability for the Midwest: higher water temperatures make water less effective as a coolant for thermoelectric facilities. Less effective coolant reduces energy efficiency in facilities, which can result in reduced or even suspended power production if plants overheat. Reduced capacity is already becoming more of a concern in summer when energy demands for air conditioning peaks. Though higher winter temperatures, on average, are reducing energy demands for heating, increased summer energy demands for cooling more than offset these gains.
Current Midwestern energy procurement practices are another source of climatic risk. In 2018, 44 percent of energy generation in the RFCW sub-region, which includes Ohio, Indiana, and portions of Illinois and Wisconsin, came from coal-based facilities, which have significant physical infrastructure and water demands. Increased storms and flooding from climate change are already resulting in greater damage to energy facilities and infrastructure, and because most energy infrastructure is owned by utilities rather than municipalities, communities may have difficulty taking action to protect aging and vulnerable energy assets.
Climate change also threatens the delivery of energy supplies and transmission of energy across the grid. The United States sources much of its biofuel supply from the Midwest, making agricultural impacts of more frequent Midwestern droughts, floods, and pest exposure a major threat to biofuel productivity and exports. Because the Midwest’s thermoelectric plants rely on steady supplies of fuel, more frequent flooding and droughts may interrupt power availability by disrupting overland and aquatic fuel deliveries. Higher temperatures will also impair energy transmission across power lines, making energy shortages more likely for the Midwest and its energy export partners during warmer periods.