Emissions & Environment, Nuclear, Renewables, World Regions

Climate change: Impacts on the energy supply chain

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released a new publication exploring the diverse range of impacts on the energy sector resulting from gradual climate change and extreme weather events, as well as the potential ways to counter them.

The report Adapting the Energy Sector to Climate Change explores how adequate responses to these challenges are crucial for a secure and reliable energy supply, including nuclear energy.

“Increased global and regional temperatures patterns, changes in precipitation amounts and seasonal distribution, a sea level rise, and changing characteristics of various extreme events such as increasing frequency, intensity, duration or even spatial extent of heat waves, droughts and storms, are forecast by most global and regional climate models.”

Loreta Stankeviciute, an IAEA energy systems analyst

These changes are expected to have a considerable impact on the energy supply chain – and are discussed in this publication. The energy resource base, extraction and transport of depletable energy sources, power generation, transmission and distribution could all be impacted.

The topics addressed include examples of direct and indirect impacts of climate trends, extreme events such icy rain that can directly damage solar panels, wind turbines, and transmission lines. In contrast, low precipitation and the resulting low water level in a river may disrupt the operations of a coal power plant, because coal could not be delivered to the plant.

Another example of indirect effect is when a snowstorm disrupts power transmission lines and forces an otherwise intact nuclear power plant to shut down because it cannot transmit electricity to the grid. “Enumerating and analysing these impacts and then increasing the adaptive capacity in specific components of the energy sector will make the energy supply more secure,” Stankeviciute said.

Case studies

This publication includes three case studies which assess the energy sector’s vulnerability in Argentina, Pakistan and Slovenia. The studies were part of a three-year IAEA Coordinated Research Project on Technoeconomic Evaluation of Options for Adapting Nuclear and Other Energy Infrastructure to Long Term Climate Change and Extreme Weather.

The case studies highlight the various possible framing and analytical techniques to tackle the challenges posed by these events in the energy sector and could be helpful for countries interested in evaluating them.

In the Argentinian case study, key adaptation options were identified through matching the potential risks due to climate change with the main characteristics of the country’s electricity system. This approach allowed to single out hydropower shortage as the single major vulnerability and to analyse options to counter it.

The Slovenian case study demonstrated risk mitigation, for example to electric power lines due to ice storms and damage caused by glaze ice, by considering their location in the initial planning. The focus was on the assessment of vulnerability of energy infrastructure at different sites in Slovenia to guide their future siting.

The case study undertaken by Pakistan using the IAEA’s energy system model quantified the increased amount of electricity that could be required as a result of global warming or extreme weather events. Since this will be met from carbon intensive technologies, greenhouse gas emissions will increase.

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Since 2010, there has been growing interest in impact studies that explore options and their associated costs to reduce the vulnerability of the energy sector to climate change, and the longer-term impacts and adaptation options, Stankeviciute explained, adding that the global energy sector faces a double challenge in the next 20–30 years.

“Not only does the sector need to be fundamentally transformed into a low carbon energy supply system in response to climate change mitigation goals of Paris Agreement, it also needs to adapt to climate change and its effects to ensure a secure supply to meet the growing needs for energy.”