The European power system is facing unrivalled challenges. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked an unprecedented energy crisis. The time is now for decisive action to transition away from imported fossil fuels to a clean, renewable electricity supply where electrification becomes key to regaining our energy independence. However, such progress toward a decarbonised and electrified Europe must come with guarantees on the resilience, security, and reliability of the energy system.
The latest projections suggest that the world is well on its way to over 1.5°C of warming by 2030 and each season brings further proof that climate change is causing more and more extreme weather events.
Such an increase will affect us all. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects a rise in extreme heat, fire weather, heavy precipitation, rainfall flooding, sea level rise, coastal flooding, and severe windstorms across Europe. Droughts are expected to increase in the Mediterranean and Western & Central Europe. Meanwhile, heavy precipitation, mean precipitation and rainfall flooding are expected to increase across Northern Europe. Management and planning for these challenges are essential to the energy security of communities and businesses across Europe.
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The IPCC has identified four zones in Europe where climate change will have a different impact. In the Mediterranean region as well as in Western and Central Europe there will be more frequent droughts, whereas Northern Europe will be increasingly exposed to heavy precipitations and rain flooding.
Meanwhile, all of Europe will experience more extreme heat, fire weather, sea level rise, coastal flooding, and severe windstorms.
25k ha burnt in Scandinavia
Storm Arwen, at least 16 deaths
Storm Eunice, £360M damage in UK
39,8° in London
39,9° in Paris
30k ha burnt
200k ha burnt
47° in Pinhão
Glacier collapse, 11 deaths
125k ha burnt
125k ha burnt
38.4° in Nicosia
6 deaths, 200+ injured
All assets in the electricity value chain are exposed to the effects of this growing number of extreme weather events, from electricity generation and transmission to distribution and the final customer.
Smoke and debris can reduce solar farm output
Interrupts power system and telecommunication connections
Difficult physical access to stations
Affects wind turbine operation
Increased air temperature impacts generation capacity and operation
Change in water inflows impacts provision of drinking water
Reduce cooling water levels and restrict flow rates
Thermal plants shut down because of insufficient cooling
High winds cause excessive mechanical loading on turbines
Wind turbines shut down to prevent wear and tear
ACC and cooling towers experiencee performance penalties
Change in water inflows impacts services such as flood control
Overtopping of hydropower dams
Lower cooling system performance of thermal & nuclear plants
Very low temperatures can affect operation of turbines
Risk of undercooling
Increased pressure on dams and reservoir structures
Power lines disconnected by emergency responders
Burning trees fall on grid infrastructure
Hot spots in cable insulation and isolation failure
Postponed maintenance or repair due to working conditions
Increase in underground grid fault rate
Loss of remote system control, mountain lines become difficult to reach
Lines damaged by falling trees, Distribution towers collapse
Loss of interconnection lines
Landslides weaken infrastructure foundations
Avalanche risks for transmission towers
Conductors broken by icing or snow sleeves
The power system already has a host of adaptation measures available for the management of climate hazards. These include physical hardening and uprating of networks, physical protection measures, additional water spill gates for hydropower dams, resizing of thermal and nuclear plant cooling systems, additional redundancy of grid design, preparedness planning, backup systems, and digital tools to enhance visibility and management of the energy system down to low power voltage levels.
Mature methods to forecast, handle and react to inflow variations.
Additional spill gates to prevent overtopping.
Trash racks and spill gates can be heated.
Facilitating the natural creation of a solid ice cover on the river.
Adapt to icing during the design stage.
The design of hydropower plants must account for their whole life cycle.
Wind & solar plants are well equipped to adapt to climate change.
The increased prevalence of these technologies requires storage, thermal, flexibility and interconnection back-up.
Standard operational temperatures could be extended beyond the current -30°C to 40°C range, if cold or hot climate countries wish to incorporate more wind energy.
Regularly reassess the level of climate change hazard, resize cooling systems, and review operating practices.
The design of thermal & nuclear plants must account for their whole life cycle.
More precise climate projections give plant designers and investors greater confidence in future performance.
Adoption of mechanical fuses to reduce conductor breakages.
Provision of alternative power network paths (network meshing, back feeding for laterals with many customers).
Remote control, grid automation and digitalisation to promptly reconfigure and restore the network.
Remote control to isolate only the faulted network.
Planning of network according to the “n-1” standard with alternative back feeds available in the event of damage.
“Meshing” of network should be considered where feasible.
Design of overhead lines to account for increased wind speeds and icing, also considering vegetation management.
Flood risk assessment must be carried out to ensure assets
are well placed and sufficiently protected.
Coordination with local authorities to help ensure a coherent approach to flood risk assessment.
Eurelectric’s Connecting the Dots report estimated that €33 billion would be required in the decade 2020-2030 to support distribution system resilience. Notably, this figure predates the higher ambitions of the REPowerEU plan, so the necessary energy system resilience investments need to be scaled up appropriately and must be complemented by investments in generation and storage.
Such funds are critical to the realisation of Europe’s electrification and decarbonisation objectives. Investment in growing the system share of renewable energy sources, with lower wholesale prices, and the flexibility opportunities provided by new technologies and services, will reduce Europe’s dependence on imported gas. Connecting the Dots estimated that the net increase in customers’ bills arising from distribution investments should amount to only 1,5% per annum.
As standard policy, regulators should promote investment in grid resilience and promote a Resilience Incentive Mechanism to stimulate the uptake of adaptation measures and smart grid technologies like smart meters and automation. Such a program by design would enhance the reliability of a clean, distributed energy system and reduce the possibility of disruptions.
It is clear today that mitigation and adaptation can no longer be tackled in silos. A failure to reach energy decarbonisation goals could result in increased adaptation costs in the long term, and a failure to adapt to climate change could be devastating for the European economy. Indeed, the price of inaction now far outweighs the cost of building sustainable, resilient communities. Nowhere is this truer than regarding Europe’s crucial electricity infrastructure.
Conversely, the benefits of such a reinforced system will reverberate through society by acting as a solid foundation for the widespread electrification of transport, heating and cooling, and industrial processes and the integration of renewable and clean energy sources. This, in turn, will benefit mitigation by reducing direct emissions and adaptation by facilitating the flexibility of the grid. The latter then lowers costs for final customers by reducing demand peaks and the need for expensive hardening of the grid.
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The cost of doing nothing, while climate change provokes more extreme weather events, will be felt throughout all of society and quickly outstrip the investment needs of a digitalised and modernised energy system.
An energy policy framework that boosts coordination and communication between all power sector stakeholders is needed. These stakeholders are heavily interdependent, both between themselves and external parties such as suppliers and telecom providers.
EPRI served as a technical advisor, and did not verify all statements in this report, with its contributions limited exclusively to providing technical and historical perspective(s) to Eurelectric. EPRI is an independent, non-profit energy research and development organization. Any and all policy or advocacy
statements or recommendations expressed or conveyed in this report are attributable solely to Eurelectric and do not reflect the opinions of EPRI, its
members, or affiliates.