El Niño’s Uneven Disruption of World’s Electricity Systems

Wed Mar 16 12:42:00 EDT 2016
By Dr. Jeff D. Makholm

In an upcoming column for the April issue of the Wiley journal, Natural Gas and Electricity, NERA Senior Vice President Dr. Jeff Makholm examines the impact of El Niño on the world’s electricity systems. El Niño seriously affects electricity systems worldwide and highlights the inherent risks and essential fragility of electric systems—especially those that rely heavily on hydroelectric generation.

El Niño is an episodic change in trade winds and water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that affects the entire world’s water supply, which has three types of effects on electric power supply. The first alters the source of generated power, the second concerns the mix of rain and snow in temperate climates, and the third is widespread damages to power delivery systems due to flooding. Dr. Makholm discusses the correlation between rainfall and hydropower, shifts in the power supply, and disruption in power systems, all of which are greatly impacted by El Niño. Dr. Makholm looks towards the future for widespread gas generation, flowing from technologically-advanced unconventional production, to act as backup for disruptions caused by El Niño, though realistically most of the world lacks the credit and commercial infrastructure to implement such changes. In the meantime, El Niño will continue to disrupt the world of electricity supply, with the brunt of the cost borne by those systems that can least afford it.

Makholm, Jeff D. (2016, April). El Nino's uneven disruption of world's electricity systems. Natural Gas & Electricity 32/9, ©2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., a Wiley company.