Among the challenges facing technicians struggling to contain the meltdown at the Daiichi Japanese nuclear power units is getting enough water to cool them down. In Japan’s case, the overheating was caused by explosions triggered by the earthquake. Nuclear—as well as fossil-fuel and biomass-fired and some renewable energy systems are impacted by changes in ambient temperature and climate. As has been made clear in Japan, nuclear facilities can be particularly demanding in the need for water.
Brazil relies heavily on its abundant hydropower resources to meet electricity demand, which is rising by about 5% a year. These resources have helped Brazil hook up more than 2.4 million rural homes since 2003, in addition to delivering electricity to its big cities. But hydropower is vulnerable to drought too, and the Brazilian Amazon—home to most of the country’s hydropower potential—has had two devastating droughts since 2005.
That’s just one example of the exposure of the energy sector to climate impacts. Up to now, most of the focus for the discussion of the energy-climate nexus has been on the impact of fossil-fuel energy use on climate change, the need to mitigate it, and the shift to renewable energy sources. This week, two World Bank colleagues of mine have just launched a new study that looks at the issue from the opposite side of the equation: climate impact on energy systems.
The study is entitled Climate Impacts on Energy Systems, Key Issues for Energy Sector Adaptation (PDF), by Jane Ebinger and Walter Vergara. It provides a framework for further analysis of vulnerability indicators for climate impacts on hydropower, wind, solar, wave and tidal energy. It also offers analytical tools that experts and policymakers can use to construct vulnerability and impact metrics for their energy sectors, along with a review of emerging adaptation practices.
Its key finding is that energy services and resources will be increasingly affected by climate change. In the book, there is evidence to suggest that adaptation is not an optional add-on but essential, on par with other business risks. To address these impacts, integrated risk-based planning is needed. The authors point out to a lack of knowledge and capacity that impedes mainstreaming of climate adaptation into the energy sector.
I could not agree more. You can’t make energy systems more resilient until you know how vulnerable they are. This study shows that we are still in the early stages of developing that understanding, essential though it is.
It is a timely piece of work from two people who have spent many years studying energy and climate change. In addition to this, Jane Ebinger has also produced a Hands-On Energy Adaptation Toolkit (HEAT), available online. To my mind, it serves as a kind of companion guide to this study. It offers a roadmap for policymakers in scoping out the climate-vulnerability of energy systems in their country, state, or department, and in developing the right strategies to adapt.
Both the study and the HEAT toolkit are products made possible by the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), which holds its annual “knowledge exchange forum” (PDF) in Washington this coming Thursday, March 17. ESMAP is not as well known as it should be. Launched in 1983 by a small group of mostly European donors and housed in the World Bank, it is a renewable energy laboratory for countries of the South. ESMAP’s team of experts, led by Rohit Khanna, manage a trust fund that helps developing and middle-income countries develop energy strategies, gather data, and build systems to create an environmentally-sound energy future. In the energy sector, you can think of ESMAP as an architect, while the World Bank itself is the contractor. Look at what ESMAP is doing today, and you get an idea of what the World Bank’s energy portfolio might look like a few years from now. The report just launched suggests that helping countries make their energy systems climate-resilient deserves to be part of that portfolio.
We need more tools like HEAT, and thankfully, a few do exist. The HOMER (Hybrid Optimization of Energy Resources) model, created by Dr. Peter Lilienthal at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory is another such assessment and impacts tool. I used HOMER for the alternate energy assessment project in Sabah, Malaysia described two weeks ago in my blog. The point is that we need the sorts of questions the Vergara/Ebinger book raises. We also need to have more students and researchers using and improving these modeling tools. To begin this process, we have built a directory of low-carbon projects that will become a menu of technology experiences and projects, with a focus on what clean energy systems can do, and how they may be impacted by climate change. I encourage you all to ‘kick the tires’ on this site, and let us know what else is needed!