Energy Systems Transformation for Climate Change Mitigation: the flip side

Source: ITV hub

The forces of innovation that have hit the energy industry in the past few decades have impacted profoundly, the demand and generation of energy1. These innovations have been prompted and driven by new styles of architectural and urban planning; new forms of transport; economic boom; and most recently, the increasing environmental and social prices of fossil fuels1. Many of the environmental and social challenges have been associated with the conventional energy systems. The global conventional energy systems have over the years, progressed through a complex mix of the durability of infrastructure; information technology development; the rate of growth of the global population; recent global economic crisis2; and the changing climate. It is important to note that the melting of sea ice also impacts the cost and availability of fossil fuels. Where these impacts are experienced, increased use of fossil fuels and subsequent increase in greenhouse gas emissions are expected. Thus, in spite of the call for decarbonisation of energy systems for climate change mitigation, the conventional energy systems have continued to expand.

The decarbonisation of the energy system has been continually undermined by the impact of climate change on the cost and security of energy. Variations in climatic parameters and severe weather episodes affect the demand and supply components of energy systems3. Heating and cooling demand distribution is changing due to rising temperatures while the supply of cleaner energy is threatened by climatic variations and severe weather episodes. Threats from the changing climate include variability in the averages of wind, solar and hydropower resources and the cultivation of bioenergy crops. Technology downtime due to severe weather episodes is also another threat to energy system decarbonisation. Other threats include threats to the efficiency of Photovoltaic (PV) panels, thermo-electric power plants and transmission lines from rising global temperatures4.

While decarbonisation of energy systems is important in climate change mitigation and adaptation, climate change impacts on energy systems should be considered in energy transformation models and pathways. To encourage the incorporation of climate change impact studies in energy system model assessments, the type, course and degree of impacts on all elements of the energy systems in every region of the world, should be covered and agreed upon in literature. This is imperative because climate change threats, as well as the pliancy of mitigation and adaptation techniques vary greatly across regions. Furthermore, disagreements between studies can impair research on feasibility and implications of energy systems development and transformation. For example, projections on the impact of rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns on hydropower resource and generation have been conflicting. On hydropower resource potential, some reports predict very little impact5,6 while some others predict a decrease of up to 6.1 % by 20807. Similarly, even though solar resource has been projected to increase in low –– mid-latitude areas8, regional researches predict only about 10 % changes in solar energy generation by the 2090s8. This has been attributed to the equalizing negative impact of rising temperatures on the efficiency of PV panels and transmission lines.

While impact studies are dependent upon the climate projections data and impact model assumptions employed, further impact studies have become imperative for the comprehensive examination of climate change mitigation and adaptation options. This is especially for renewable resources. It is also particularly necessary for these studies to knuckle down on climate change impacts on elements of the energy system in developing countries for effective global representation.

References

  1. World Economic forum. 2018. Transformation of the global energy system. www.weforum.org/REF080118-case00039936
  2. Dangerman A. T. C. J. and Schellnhuber H. J. 2012. Energy systems transformation. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1219791110.
  3. Field C. B. 2014. Technical summary. Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Technical Summary.
  4. Ebinger J. and Vergara W. 2011. Climate impacts on energy systems: key issues for energy sector adaptation. World Bank.
  5. Hamududu B. and Killingtveit A. 2012. Assessing climate change impacts on global hydropower. Energies 5(2):305–322.
  6. Turner S. W. D., Yi J. and Galelli S. 2017. Examining global electricity supply vulnerability to climate change using a high-fidelity hydropower dam model. Science Total Environment 591:663–675
  7. van Vliet M. T. H. 2016. Power-generation system vulnerability and adaptation to changes in climate and water resources. National Climate Change
  8. Patt A., Pfenninger S. and Lilliestam J. 2013. Vulnerability of solar energy infrastructure and output to climate change. Climate Change 121:93–102

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