Climate Change Threatens Energy Sector

Transmission tower

Researchers have identified several extreme weather critical issues on energy sector, including disruptions on power-plant and fuel supplies, due to droughts and severe storms. Extreme climate causes major issues to the energy sector by:

  • Increasing air and water temperatures;
  • Decreasing water availability across regions and seasons; and
  • Increasing intensity and frequency of storm events, flooding and sea level rise.

Some adverse effects have been detected:

  • Severe losses on infrastructure: there are higher risks to energy infrastructure located along the coasts thanks to sea level rise, the increasing intensity of storms, and higher storm surge and flooding. Power lines, transformers and electricity distribution systems face increasing risks of physical damage from the hurricanes, storms and wildfires, along with the risks of blackouts and brownouts.
  • Increased incidents on operations: changes in the climate mean decreased water availability, which affects cooling at thermoelectric power plants and reduces available generation capacity, and impact operations.
  • Rise in cost of air conditioning: increasing air and water temperatures due to heat waves, this fuels an increase in electricity demand for cooling, which in turn raises air conditioning costs.

Energy systems’ vulnerability to water resources was firstly spotlighted in the International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2012. The report concluded that “constraints on water can challenge the reliability of existing operations and the viability of proposed projects, imposing additional costs for necessary adaptive measures.

The International Energy Agency affirms that climate change requires adaptation in the energy sector:

  • In Europe, nearly 20% of coal-fired power generation will need added cooling capacity.  About 1°C of warming will reduce available electric capacity by up to 19% in summer in the 2040s.
  • In India, severe water scarcity will amplify competition for water and determine thermal plants competitiveness and location – while cooling demand grows. Around 70% of planned power capacity is locations considered either water stressed or water scarce.
  • Storms, heavy rainfall and increased temperature will impact the power system infrastructure and energy demand. In China, water constraints could make the expected increase in thermal power output unachievable, in particular, as 60% of thermal power capacity is in northern China, which has only 20% of freshwater supply.

Water constraints have already adversely impacted the energy sector in many parts of the world. In the U.S., several power plants have been affected by low water flows or high water temperatures. In India, a thermal power plant recently had to shut down due to a severe water shortage. France has been forced to reduce or halt energy production in nuclear power plants due to high water temperatures threatening cooling processes during heat waves. Recurring and prolonged droughts are threatening hydropower capacity in many countries, such as Sri Lanka, China and Brazil. To address this challenge, the World Bank has launched a new global initiative entitled “Quantifying the Tradeoffs of the Water and Energy Nexus” that is a joint effort of the energy and the water groups.

President Obama said in his speech in June 2013, “climate change is happening” — and the effects are already being felt across U.S.. For example, two extreme weather and climate disasters happened in 2012. It´s estimated damage of approximately $115 billion was driven primarily by Hurricane Sandy ($65 billion) and an extended drought ($30 billion). In order to tackle such issue, the U.S. Department of Energy delivered the report “U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather”, which examines current and potential future impacts of climate trends on the U.S. energy sector.

To support countries’ efforts to address challenges in energy and water management proactively, the World Bank has embarked on a global initiative: thirsty energy. Thirsty Energy aims to help governments prepare for an uncertain future, and break disciplinary silos that prevent cross-sectoral planning.

Climate preparedness in the energy sector demands development and deployment of useful technologies including dry cooling, improvement of efficiency and strength across the grid, effective stakeholder coordination, greater access to information to support decision-making, and a policy framework that enables it all.


U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather, U.S. Department of Energy, July 2013

Thirsty Energy, World Bank, June 2013

Thirsty energy, The Journal of the International Energy Agency, December 2012

Nexus Forum, International Energy Agency, October 2013

Quantifying the Tradeoffs of the Water and Energy Nexus, World Bank, September 2013

2 thoughts on “Climate Change Threatens Energy Sector

  1. These are the facts, but why still nobody ruling this world is doing anything but palliative initiatives as “thirsty Energy”? It means they have ave up on this planet, it means that nobody in this planet is going to do anything effective to reverse or control this changes?

    • Excellent reflection exercise Oscar !!!
      Climate change and its effects are a reality. There are lobbies, political & countries’ interests, economical crisis, and others factors diverting the focus on other agendas.
      I believe people are concerned about how climate change is affecting planet earth. Thus, I believe by awaking them, all together we can make small changes in the near future, which will impact on climate change in a larger scale.

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