Adaptation: Field of Action Energy Sector

Wind power station in a crop fieldClick to enlarge
Climate change affects the entire energy process chain.
Source: Stefan Flach/

The adaptation of the energy sector to climate change is necessary in order to ensure Germany’s energy supply. In the context of adaptation, energy conversion and distribution structures have to be protected from extreme weather and water shortages. At the same time it is important to take the impacts of climate change on the energy demand into account.

Technical measures

Energy conversion
Due to the fact that conventional energy supply has so far been dominated by centralised electricity supply provided by large power plants, it is particularly vulnerable to failures of individual power plants. Restructuring the energy supply with a focus on renewable energy sources, especially wind energy and photovoltaics, also entails a greater decentralisation of the energy supply, which is thus more resilient to individual failures and locally limited events.

A central problem for the conventional energy conversion under a changing climate is the supply of thermal power plants with cooling water. Renewable energies can reduce the demand for fossil-generated (peak) load during summer months that are problematic in terms of cooling water supply. In addition, thermal power plants should be equipped with innovative cooling concepts, such as combinations of wet and dry cooling systems. Due to their significantly higher fuel efficiency and their thus better production efficiency, facilities that operate with combined heat and power or with combined heat and power and cooling processes can also reduce their cooling water requirements. However, this is subject to the availability of suitable heat or cooling energy customers.

Another climate change-induced challenge for power plants is the increased risk of inundations due to heavy rain and floods. Although high safety standards already apply to power plants and endangered sites are equipped with flood protection systems, they can be impaired or even have to be switched off in individual cases, as occurred in Gera Süd in 2013. Already today, drainage systems are expanded as part of adaptation measures in central power plants. However, especially buildings outside of the actual plant areas are subject to flooding risks. Thus it is important to find suitable sites when constructing new buildings.

Especially conventional power plant operators may encounter logistical needs for adaptation. If the use of waterways for the transport of fuels for conventional power plants is restricted or interrupted due to high or low water, alternative supply and transport routes should be available. A more flexible approach to transport and logistics concepts as well as the development and new construction of local storage facilities are ways to adapt effectively.

Of course also renewable energies can be affected by the consequences of climate change: Since the feed-in of electricity from those renewable energies that will have the greatest significance in the future energy system (wind energy and photovoltaics) is subject to weather conditions, storms, calms, snow and hail are already relevant today. For that reason, several concepts and technologies, such as storm limitations in wind turbines that can respond to extreme weather events have already been developed. In the field of wind turbines, logistics, access and maintenance concepts are optimised, too. These measures also include remote maintenance systems for offshore wind turbines. Photovoltaic systems in flood-prone areas should have a switch for a controlled short circuit in order to prevent short circuits if electrical components are flooded. Hail damage can be reduced with the help of thicker protective glass for photovoltaic modules.

Electricity transmission and network security
Possible extreme weather events such as floods, storms and thunderstorms, which can cause damage to the networks, should be considered when determining the position of network elements such as overhead power lines and transformer stations. Both great snow loads as well as an overload of networks in case of extreme temperatures can be prevented with the help of technical measures: In addition to an overhead line monitoring, or a temperature monitoring, respectively, high temperature conductors can reduce the risk of excessive transmission capacity. Heating wires or PEDT (pulse electro-thermal de-icing) can heat pipes in order to provide protection against freezing.

Energy demand
Higher temperatures increase the cooling demand, especially during summer months. Therefore, energy saving measures that reduce the demand are necessary. This needs to be taken into account especially in building designs and urban planning processes. For example, building insulation or shading devices can reduce cooling requirements significantly. In addition, the energy efficiency of technical devices can be increased.

Political, legal and management measures

The energy demand can also be influenced through management measures, such as electricity consumption monitoring and supply-oriented prices. Very sunny and windy weather conditions can cause an overload of the networks. The so-called feed-in management ensures that individual power plants reduce their performance in case of network congestion. Pursuant to the Renewable Energy Sources Act, only facilities equipped with such power reduction devices shall be promoted.

Further research will result in findings on other possible management and technical adaptation measures. This is necessary in order to create a reliable information base for planning and investment processes and for the development of innovative adaptation technologies. Thus, further information concerning relevant climate changes such as the development of water temperatures or runoff amounts are required.

In order to successfully deal with extreme weather events, active risk management of energy companies is required. It is important to set up emergency plans at an early stage as well as raise awareness and provide training courses for staff members. In that regard, also the formation of crisis management teams can ensure that the required actions are taken quickly.

In general it is therefore important to raise awareness of climate change-induced changes and challenges within the energy sector and to link the relevant stakeholders. In the Working Group “Crisis precautions in the Electricity Industry” established by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), the federal government and state governments as well as energy sector representatives discuss different crisis scenarios for extreme weather events and possible measures under the provisions of the Energy Industry Act and the Energy Security Act.

Furthermore, the state has the opportunity to create incentives to preserve the functioning and the development of infrastructure in the energy sector. For example, new storage technologies are explored as part of the “Funding Initiative Energy Storage Systems” of the federal government.

If you are interested in obtaining information about concrete impacts of climate change in the field of action energy sector, please click here.