The management of climate risks for electrical installations

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Rischio climatico per gli impianti elettrici

The "Energy" chapter of the National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation(1)

by Felice Lucia

In the chapter " Energy " of the italian "Report on the state of scientific knowledge on impacts , vulnerability and adaptation" prepared last December by a working group of industry experts for the National Energy Strategy, you can read that the energy sector is an example of an economy that is particularly vulnerable to climate change, as a result, on the one hand , of the high sensitivity of the production and consumption of energy compared to the evolution of temperatures and extreme events and, secondly, of the severity of the requirements to be met by energy services, in quantitative and qualitative terms, in particular with regard to their continuity .

With the increase in global average temperature, less energy will be required for heating and more energy will instead be required for cooling systems, the magnitude of these changes varying for different regions and seasons. In southern European countries , due to the increase of the maximum temperatures , higher than the minimum , and to the lower efficiency of cooling than heating, energy demand for cooling will increase more than energy demand for heating will reduce, and also the increase in costs for cooling will far outweigh the savings for heating .

Climate change for the Mediterranean area is expected to have the effect of greatly increasing the power consumption in the summer season , including the increasing use of air conditioning systems. This trend will be affected by the increase in frequency and intensity of heat waves. It is therefore easily predictable, given the expected climate projections for the twenty-first century, that the summer demand will constantly increase even with probable risk of blackouts due to summer peaks. To partially compensate this increase in electricity demand during the summer, winter demand will certainly lower because of the use of less intensive type of electric heating systems .
The production capacity of thermal power plants could be adversely affected by some phenomena related to climate change , such as flooding, reductions in the availability of cooling water and increase in its temperature and, finally, the extreme temperatures.

Changes in weather and climate have led and will lead over time to a reduction of water availability for hydropower production and greater difficulty in its management. While so far the trend of rainfall , particularly in the north of Italy, is not very significant, for the future we expect a significant reduction in rainfall , especially in the summer season. For other renewable sources (wind , biomass, photovoltaic), minor impacts are expected which will occur, however, with longer average life of the plant.

In the Mediterranean , the most significant potential impacts of climate change on the operation of electricity networks will be those due to increased temperatures and drought. The increase in temperature causes an increase in the resistance of the cables , and then in the transmission losses, making the dissipation of the produced heat more difficult.

With regard to adaptation strategies, it is necessary, especially in the case of long-lived infrastructure that involve large investments , that climate change is taken into account starting from the initial stages of the project, through the use of appropriate design criteria and the adoption of specific technologycal measures . This applies in particular to the works subject to EIA ( Environmental Impact Assessment), for which the environmental impact studies should take into account the changes in the reference climatic conditions, that can occur for a period corresponding to the average life of the work .

In the residential sector and the tertiary sector, the criteria applied in the construction of new buildings have achieved good levels of efficiency in energy saving as regards the use of heating systems, while the same criteria lead to weak disadvantages in the use of cooling system. It is therefore desirable that systematic and generalized adaptation actions are realized in the construction national sector, with the aim of reducing the needs of air conditioning for the winter season, and especially for the summer.

In order to reduce the impact of water shortages on thermal generation, it is appropriate to put in place a series of measures to rationalize, program and reduce consumption, which is not only the scope of the production of electricity. In severe cases, you may need to reduce the production of plants or even suspend its operation. In order to reduce the vulnerability of power plants to rising temperatures and to the reduction of the flow of water courses, it would be appropriate to replace the open-loop cooling systems with closed-loop systems  and equip them with air coolers or additional pumps, or cooling towers.

Hydropower will require increasing attention in the long term to the variability of  water resources throughout the year in order to protect the ecological conditions of the river and avoid conflicts related to other use of the resources, especially agricultural production. In normal operations, the increasing variability of rainfall and, consequently, of water availability will require an increase in the volume of the storage tanks .

The expected impacts for wind turbines, biomass powered plants and PV are valued so weak than they can be neglected in the long-term strategies and in the ordinary operations for these systems . For a biomass plant that produces electricity for the base load, a high frequency of heat waves may lead to significant reductions in production; in these cases, it is necessary to consider, in the design phase, the opportunity to invest in more effective cooling systems.
For the transmission and distribution of electricity, there are several win-win measures , which may now be taken into account for their positive effects , even without taking into account the increase resilience to climate change, such as the burial of part of the network, which reduces the visual and environmental impacts, the use of AC flexible transmission systems , which makes the systems more controllable, and the installation of monitoring systems, which facilitates the integration of intermittent sources .

With regard to the resilience of the energy system as a whole, it should be noted that some of the countermeasures taken so far to reduce the "traditional" vulnerability of the energy system as compared with the primary sources (diversification of primary energy sources, promotion of renewable energy sources and of  energy efficiency, demand side management , use of energy storage systems , integration and development of the networks , the use of contracts providing for the interruption of service ) seem to have a positive effect for the purpose of increasing the resilience of the system against climate change.

For the purposes of risk management related to the management of energy facilities, in particular the power plants, an important role could be played by the insurance systems. However, even this option is often problematic, since the insurance companies are often in difficultywhen assessing the risks of climate change and, because of the high uncertainty, they can be induced to refuse to insure a specific infrastructure, unless the operator does not offer additional guarantees .



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