Climate change could affect our energy systems, and thereby our energy security, in several ways: by altering energy demand, disrupting energy supply and damaging energy infrastructure.

The energy sector will need to develop resilience to climate change impacts through technological solutions, flexible management practices as well as preventive emergency preparedness and response measures. To facilitate these processes and enhance their effectiveness, policy and institutional responses will be needed.

Resilience of the energy sector to climate change

Climate trends are expected to have long-term gradual impacts on the energy system through increasing air and water temperatures, sea-level rise and other changes in weather patterns as well as impacts caused by extreme events, such as heat waves, droughts, heavy precipitation, and storms.

Changes in weather and climate extremes will occur globally and in all regions, albeit unevenly, according to projections in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). These impacts, as well as combinations of these impacts that can intensify their effect, will have significant implications for business as usual in the energy sector.‌

Photo credit: © GraphicObesssion

Energy demand is expected to change, potentially dramatically in some areas, as a result of increasing temperatures and changing weather patterns, affecting heating and cooling demands. IEA analysis shows that while demand for heating may decrease, demand for space cooling will increase in all parts of the world, especially in China, the United States, Middle East and India.

Energy supply will face changing conditions, including reduced efficiency of thermal plants, cooling constraints on thermal and nuclear plants, and pressure on transmission systems; electricity generation from hydro, wind and other renewable and biofuel production will also be affected. For example, according to IEA estimates, 1°C of warming can be expected to reduce available electricity generation capacity in summer by up to 19% and 16% in Europe and the United States, respectively, in the 2040s.

Energy infrastructure could be exposed to sea-level rise, permafrost melt, as well as more frequent and intense extreme weather events including increased wind speeds and ocean storminess. These may threaten coastal power generation infrastructure, onshore transmission and distribution infrastructure, as well as offshore installations and pipelines and could ultimately lead to various interruptions of energy delivery systems.

IEA's work to enhance resilience in the energy sector

The threat that climate change poses to energy systems is a new area of interest for the IEA but one that goes to the IEA’s core mission of enhancing energy security. To help address this new challenge, the IEA launched the Nexus Forum in 2012 as a platform to enhance awareness of the impacts of a changing climate on the energy sector and share emerging experience on building energy sector resilience. 

The IEA is currently working to enhance the climate change resilience aspect in several of its core activities:

1. Dialogue facilitation: Promote dialogue on climate change impacts and resilience topics of relevance to business and policy-making communities through the Nexus Forum workshops on the climate change-energy security nexus.

2. Policy information collection and dissemination: Identify energy resilience and preparedness policies that are being used by governments and appropriate platforms for disseminating this information to stakeholders. With this in mind, the IEA Policies and Measures (PAMS) Database is being expanded to include relevant resilience policies.

3. Data and modelling: Investigate how data and modelling of climate impacts on the energy system can be improved. The IEA had already begun to deepen its analysis of resilience issues, notably reflected in the World Energy Outlook 2013 Special Report on climate. Further consideration is given to integrating climate change impacts (and potentially adaptation/resilience policies) into IEA modelling and analytic capabilities.

4. Research stocktaking on impacts, vulnerability and resilience policy: Keep abreast of and help to disseminate studies in this emerging literature. 

5. Policy development: Facilitate the development of resilience and preparedness policies. Building on the experience of the Nexus Forum to date, the IEA is exploring how it could play a more proactive role in actual policy development on both the government and business sides. Existing processes within the IEA, as well as outreach to member states, could potentially enable future actions in this workstream.