Climate change will disrupt existing energy systems

A simulation method to reduce the adverse influences due to climate-related uncertainties in the energy sector and guarantee the robust operation of energy infrastructure during extreme climate events.

Climate change and extreme weather conditions may one day make us rethink how we produce renewable energy. Just half a century from now, these extreme conditions will affect energy demand and push our supply systems to their limits.

Since today’s renewable energy systems are designed with current weather patterns, they will never again satisfy the need for power as our climate evolves.

For that purpose, scientists at EPFL have built up a stochastic-robust optimization simulation method to think about both standard varieties and extreme weather events.

Dasun Perera, a scientist at EPFL’s Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory (LESO-PB), said, “We observed that current energy systems are designed in a way that makes them highly susceptible to extreme weather events such as storms and heatwaves. We also found that climate variability will result in significant fluctuations in renewable power being fed into grids as well as energy demand. This will make it difficult to match energy demand and renewable power generation. Dealing with the effects of climate change is going to prove harder than we previously thought.”

Scientists examined the effect of weather extremes and variations on both energy demand and the resilience of energy supply systems, intentionally moving toward the issue from a brand new angle.

Perera said, “Everyone’s talking about how energy production is driving climate change. But, to our surprise, nobody had tried to connect these two issues holistically. Climate scientists focus on climate change, while energy experts concentrate on energy systems and grids. As the growing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events put our energy systems under strain, we realized it was high time to look at the bigger picture.”

Scientists noted, “Failing to take climate mitigation and adaptation seriously could have severe, even disastrous consequences in the near and long term, disrupting energy supplies and causing partial or total power outages. Dealing with the fallout could prove extremely costly for cities and urban areas.”

Jean-Louis Scartezzini, who heads the LESO-PB lab at EPFL, said, “If we do nothing, our current energy systems will no longer be able to meet demand.”

The researchers applied their method to 30 cities throughout Sweden, including at northerly and more southerly latitudes, considering 13 climate change scenarios. They found that uncertainties in renewable energy potential and demand could lead to a significant performance gap brought about by future climate variations and a drop in power supply reliability.

Under extreme conditions, hourly demand for heating and cooling across the country’s current residential housing stock could be anywhere between 50% and 400% higher than the historical 20-year average. The team’s findings for cities in northern Sweden hold for large parts of central Europe.

The study is published in the journal Nature Energy.

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