The Energy Sector and Earth Observations, Sciences, and Services

A Policy Statement of the American Meteorological Society 
(Adopted by the AMS Council 20 September 2012)

Energy production and use are highly sensitive to weather, water, and climate1.  Extreme events, including heat waves, droughts, ice and snow, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, wildfire, and solar storms, disrupt the generation and delivery of electricity, the extraction and refining of oil and natural gas, and the short-term consumer demand for energy. Disruptions to the energy sector from extreme events often occur over large geographic areas and have huge economic impacts.

Small changes in weather can also cause large impacts on the energy sector. A difference in temperature of a few degrees can dramatically influence the demand for electric power and natural gas. Modest changes in wind speed or cloudiness substantially alter the output from wind and solar generation. Drought and elevated cooling-water temperatures can limit the operation of conventional fossil fuel and nuclear power stations. 
Weather and climate variability across short, medium, and long timescales affect all energy sources. Biomass and hydroelectric power vary over seasonal and annual timescales depending on growing conditions and water availability. Physical assets involved in energy generation, transmission, and distribution are planned, constructed, and operated over timescales of 50 years or more. Investment decisions to deploy additional energy infrastructure and to develop new energy resources must account for potential future conditions over multiple decades.

Therefore, improvements in Earth observations, sciences, and services (Earth OSS), particularly those related to weather and climate, are virtually certain to provide direct benefits to the United States’ energy sector, such as the following six:

  1. Increased forecast accuracy and confidence will very likely reduce the energy sector’s vulnerability to extreme weather events by reducing risks to life and property (including the energy workforce) by making it easier to pre-position assets needed for system operations, recovery, and restoration. 
  2. Improved short-term to medium-range forecast accuracy (from minutes to two weeks) will enable more cost-effective integration of renewable sources of electricity, particularly wind and solar, which vary over time and with location.  Better forecasts can reduce the need for reserve power and enable better use of energy storage, transmission, and demand response.
  1. Increased accuracy and confidence in longer-term prediction (from two weeks to several years) will help companies and people improve their energy production and consumption strategies. This will increase the efficient use of resources, enable smarter financial hedging strategies, reduce waste, and minimize environmental impacts to air and water.    
  2. Improved decadal-scale projections will help energy producers and consumers anticipate and adapt to climate variability and change and to corresponding shifts in the patterns of energy supply and demand. The energy industry will need these improvements to occur at local and regional scales to enable full incorporation of the potential consequences of climate variability and change into decision-making, including the construction of more resilient energy infrastructures and systems.
  1. More comprehensive Earth system measurements would promote the development and expansion of additional energy resources by characterizing potential new resources, advancing our understanding of weather and climate events that affect resources, and improving models of weather and climate on which the energy system depends.
  1. Energy production and use also impact the Earth system itself through emissions of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and pollutants, consumption of water resources, and changes to the landscape.  Earth OSS will help society identify, manage, and minimize the harmful unintended consequences of energy production and use.

Public–private partnerships involving the energy sector, and those who provide Earth OSS to the energy sector, have great potential for societal benefit but require careful navigation by policy makers. Some private-sector companies that rely on public-sector data and forecasts from the federal government provide services that are targeted to particular energy-sector business areas and clients. Meanwhile, competing energy companies collect weather and climate data that they view as sensitive proprietary information. Increased availability of these data would likely improve forecast skill and facilitate integration of a wide variety of energy resources. Policies to encourage the sharing of data, while still protecting the business interests of private-sector companies, have considerable potential to benefit the energy sector.

The United States faces numerous complex challenges and opportunities with respect to our energy sector. Improved Earth OSS capabilities are central to better planning, development, operation and use of energy for the decades to come. Advancements in Earth observations, sciences, and services can also be expected to provide significant benefits to other important social and economic sectors including public health, water resource management, national security, transportation, and agriculture.  

Therefore, AMS recommends:

  • Robust federal support for Earth observations, sciences, and services;
  • A comprehensive assessment of the energy sector’s needs and priorities for Earth observations, sciences, and services;
  • Research to 1) better understand how the existing, and potentially enhanced, observing system can most effectively improve weather forecasts for all energy sources, 2) better understand the sensitivity of energy resources to climate variability and change, 3) better understand the impact of the energy sector on the Earth system, and 4) improve the skill of weather and climate models at simulating energy-sensitive weather and climate conditions; 
  • Policies to promote sharing of data relating to Earth OSS and energy demand among the research, forecast, and operations communities spanning the public, academic, and private sectors;
  • Safeguards to protect the business interests of private-sector companies that share proprietary data; and
  • An improved national data collection and quality-control capability for weather and climate observations, including for data contributed from nontraditional sources. This would provide ready access to high-quality data for decision-makers, private companies, the media, and members of the public.

Together, these recommendations would help reduce the energy sector’s vulnerability to extreme weather events, enable more cost-effective integration of renewable sources of electricity, and improve the nation’s energy production and consumption strategies.

[This statement is considered in force until September 2016 unless superseded by a new statement issued by the AMS Council before this date.]

1Weather and climate are also sensitive to energy production, as described in greater detail in the AMS Statement on Climate Change: