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    Decline of U.S. Earth Observation Satellites Could Impair Energy Production

    By By Lauren Morello, E&E reporter
    September 26, 2012, 8:29:07 AM EDT

    Shoring up the country's system of Earth observations would create "direct benefits" for the U.S. energy sector, according to a new statement released by the American Meteorological Society.


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    "Energy production and use are highly sensitive to weather, water and climate," says the document, which the science group's governing council approved last week. "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."

    That type of disruption can affect large areas and often impart huge economic costs, but even small changes in weather can have outsize impacts on the energy sector, the statement notes.

    Warming of water intended for cooling can hamper nuclear power production, for example. Dominion Resources Inc. temporarily shut down a nuclear reactor at its plant in Waterford, Conn., in August when water temperatures in Long Island Sound rose above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

    And a heat wave or a cold snap can swiftly alter the demand for the electric power and natural gas that keep air conditioners and furnaces humming.

    Maintaining a wide variety of high-quality Earth observations, including satellite monitoring, could help improve the accuracy of weather forecasts. And that, in turn, could increase the efficiency of energy sector operations by allowing companies to better prepare for the aftermath of extreme weather events, improve integration of renewable energy sources into power grids, and understand how climate change will affect energy production and usage in coming decades.

    "Improvements in Earth observations, sciences and services, particularly those related to weather and climate, are virtually certain to provide direct benefits to the United States' energy sector," the AMS statement says.

    Drumming up support from energy interests could benefit Earth observation programs as well.

    Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences warned that the United States' aging stable of Earth-observing satellites is "at risk of collapse" after years of budget shortfalls, launch failures, organizational problems and program changes at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Many long-running missions are nearing their ends, but the development and launch of the next generation of satellites has been lagging. The 23 U.S. satellites now in orbit are expected to dwindle to just six by 2020 without a concerted effort to close the looming satellite gap, the academy warned.

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