Future energy systems need to be climate proof

Future energy systems need to be climate proof

Impacts of climate change on energy systems in global and regional scenarios
Yalew, S.G., Van Vliet, M TH., Gernaat, D EHJ., Ludwig, F., Miara, A., Park, C., Byers, E., De Cian et al.
Nature Energy , (2020) - August 2020

Climate policy for future energy systems typically focus on the challenge to make them carbon neutral to avoid climate change. However, it will also be critically important to make them climate proof to ensure that they are resilient to future climate change.

This is the key conclusion of a literature review published in Nature Energy, analyzing 220 peer-reviewed articles, led by Utrecht University with contributions of prominent researchers worldwide. Climate proofing of energy systems requires attention, as they are expected to become more sensitive to climate change.

A substantial body of literature focused on climate impacts on cooling and heating energy demand. While heating energy demand is expected to decrease (possibly by up to 20% worldwide), cooling demand is expected to increase substantially (possibly by over 30%). This could also lead to very different seasonal and daily patterns for energy demand, especially during peak hours.

Concerning energy supply, most articles focus on possible impacts on renewable energy (mostly hydro and wind power). An important motivation is that an increasing share of renewable energy will make future energy systems also more sensitive to climate change. Most studies project (small) decreases in hydropower and thermal energy at the global scale. For other energy resources, results are much more mixed. At the regional scale there is still a lot of uncertainty, with the exception of South Asia and Latin America, where impacts are in general negative.

Dr. Seleshi Yalew, lead author of the study, currently working at Delft University of Technology, points out that “this research field is not well developed yet. Studies still use a wide range of different methods, assumptions, and data sources. For a more comprehensive assessment of climate impacts on energy systems, we definitely need improved multi-model experiments.”

“The study can be an important input for the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” adds Utrecht University’s Prof. Detlef van Vuuren, co-coordinator of the study.

I think it is important to understand how the different components of the energy systems are vulnerable to climate change in an integrated way, as adaptation strategies to make more resilient investments do already exist”. We are observing a rapid transformation of our energy systems, with unprecedented investments in renewables source, and a more diversified power sector means a less vulnerable one.

*Pic by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_glod/