Energy: European scale
Hydropower and thermoelectric power potential on a global scale
Worldwide, 81% of total electricity generation is currently produced by thermoelectric (nuclear, biomass- and fossil-fuelled) power plants, and 17% by hydropower plants (46). It is therefore of utmost importance for the electricity sector to have sufficient fresh water resources of low temperature to generate power and cool thermoelectric power plants. How will global warming change the world’s available surface water resources, in terms of stream flow and water temperature, and how will these changes affect the potential for hydropower and thermoelectric power generation?
This has been assessed on a global scale by calculating both gross hydropower potential and cooling water discharge capacity (45). Gross hydropower potential is defined as “the annual energy potentially available when all natural runoff in a country is harnessed down to sea level (or to the border line of the country) without any energy losses” (47). In other words, “the capacity of hydropower generation possible if all natural water flows contained as many 100% efficient turbines as possible” (48). Cooling water discharge capacity is defined as the potential of surface water systems to dilute a certain amount of waste heat without exceeding environmental legislations (i.e. maximum permitted water temperatures and water temperature increases). Thus, gross hydropower potential and cooling water discharge capacity are upper limits that indicate the potential of future growth of thermoelectric and hydropower electricity generation. Actually, only a few percent of these upper limits is being used today (45)!
Gross hydropower potential and cooling water discharge capacity have been calculated for both a low- and high-end scenario of climate change (the so-called RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 scenarios), by using a combination of different models for climate change and river discharge (45).
Currently, both gross hydropower potential and mean cooling water discharge capacity are highest in Asia, followed by South America, Africa, North America, Europe, and Australia & Oceania. The assessment shows that global gross hydropower potential may increase between +2.4% and +6.3% for the 2080s compared to 1971 - 2000. Regions with considerable (>20%) increases in gross hydropower potential are mainly central Africa, India, central Asia and the northern high-latitude regions. Regions with considerable (>20%) declines in hydropower potential are southern Europe, northern Africa, southern United States and parts of South America, southern Africa and southern Australia (45,57).
Global mean cooling water discharge capacity is projected to decrease by 4.5 - 15% (2080s). The largest reductions are found for the United States, Europe, eastern Asia, and southern parts of South America, Africa and Australia, where strong water temperature increases are projected combined with reductions in mean annual stream flow. Cooling water discharge capacity is expected to increase considerably (>20%) in India, central Africa, some northern parts of Australia and for the most northern high-latitude regions (45).
So on a global scale gross hydropower potential will increase by 2.4% - 6.3%, and mean cooling water discharge capacity will decrease by 4.5% - 15%, between now and the end of this century. These numbers may be misleading when looking at the possibilities to expand actual hydropower and thermoelectric power. Both hydropower and thermoelectric power may increase up to a few hundred percent in the course of this century (45). These percentages are completely different from the relative changes of the upper limits due to the fact that currently only 5% and 0.3% of these upper limits of gross hydropower potential and mean cooling water discharge capacity are actually being used for hydropower and thermoelectric power, respectively (45)! Thus, there seems to be a lot of potential to further increase hydropower and thermoelectric power. This is especially interesting since most current hydropower plants are situated in regions with expected declines in mean annual stream flow (49), whereas a large part of the world’s land surface will experience increases in stream flow and thus in gross hydropower potential (45).
Opportunities and vulnerabilities for electricity production in Europe
Overall impact: reduction under 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C warming
Climate change will negatively affect power generation in European countries regardless of the level of global warming. This was concluded from an assessment of climate change impacts on wind, solar, hydro and thermoelectric power generation in 28 European Union countries. Southern Europe, in particular Spain and Portugal, will be more strongly impacted than northern Europe (54).
The assessment focused on three levels of global warming above preindustrial levels: 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C. The first two levels are in line with the targets achieved in the COP21 Paris agreement, while the third one is the most likely level given the current national voluntary contributions to the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gasses. A number of climate simulations based on different combinations of climate models was used. The period 1971-2000 was used as the reference climate to compare future changes in power generation (54).
Overall, climate change has negative impacts on electricity production in most countries and for most technologies. Impacts remain limited for a 1.5°C warming, and roughly double for a 3°C warming. Impacts are relatively limited for solar and wind power potential which may reduce up to 10%, while hydropower and thermoelectric generation may decrease by up to 20%. Generally, impacts are more severe in southern Europe than in northern Europe. Increasing the wind and solar power share in combination with reducing thermoelectric power (primarily fossil-fuel based power) in the European power mix will have a double benefit: contributing to climate change mitigation and making power generation less vulnerable to climate change (54).
- Wind power: Overall reductions in wind power potential up to 5% are projected for all EU countries under 1.5°C and 2°C global warming except Greece, where projected changes are positive. Under 3°C global warming projected reductions are also up to 5% for most countries except for Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus where decreases in magnitudes are expected to exceed 5% (approaching 10% for Cyprus).
- Solar power: Projected reductions in solar power potential under 1.5°C and 2°C global warming are generally up to 5% for most countries expect for Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus where changes were very small. Under 3°C global warming projected reductions are also up to 5% for most countries except for the Baltic countries, Finland and Sweden where projected declines are 5% to 10%. The projected reduction in solar power potential is due to a decrease in down welling shortwave radiation, likely linked to the increase of water vapour due to warming.
- Hydropower: Hydropower potential is projected to increase in northern, eastern and western Europe and decrease in southern Europe (Greece, Spain and Portugal). Overall, more warming results in stronger changes: projected mean changes do not exceed 10% for 1.5°C, 15% for 2°C or 20% for 3°C warming. The Baltic and Scandinavian countries would benefit most from global warming: projected mean hydropower potential increases over 15% under 3°C warming. These model results are very uncertain, however.
- Thermoelectric power: Thermoelectric power plants’ capacity of using river water for cooling is expected to reduce in all European countries due to a combination of higher water temperatures and reduced summer river flows. More warming results in larger impacts. For most countries, reductions are 5% for 1.5°C, 10% for 2°C and ∼15% for 3°C warming. Bulgaria, Greece and Spain will be the most strongly impacted (15%- 20% decrease). These results are probably overestimates: only cooling by river water was considered whereas power plants using sea water or dry (air) cooling are probably less sensitive to climate change.
The authors stress that assumptions in their study lead to uncertainties, so results should be taken in a qualitative way. Still, they argue, the orders of magnitude are relevant and reliable. They conclude that climate change adaption is needed, in particular for the thermoelectric power and hydropower sectors in Europe. Adaptation options include increased plant efficiencies and changes in cooling system types (54).
Wind energy potential according to other studies
While the wind power share in the world’s electricity mix is currently 3%, wind power already provides 15 to 30% of national electricity in a few countries (e.g. Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Denmark) and is targeted to provide 18 % of global electricity by 2050 (35). In Europe, wind power installed capacity represents almost 40 % of the installed capacity globally in 2013 (36). It is expected to double within the next 10 years and might quadruple by the middle of the century (37). By 2020, the European Commission aims to produce 15.7% of the EU’s electricity from wind (43). In 2014, offshore and land-based wind farms generated about 7.3 % of Europe’s total electricity consumption in an average year (50).
Future changes in the potential for wind power generation over the whole Europe and in the effective wind power production from national wind farms operating at the end of 2012 and planned by 2020 have been assessed (32). This assessment is based on several (regional and global) climate models under a scenario of moderate climate change (the SRES A1B emission scenario). Future changes are computed as the difference between the mean values obtained for the 1971–2000 present period and the 2031–2060 and 2071–2100 future periods.
According to this assessment, future changes in wind power potential are weak or non-significant over a large part of Europe: changes in wind power potential will remain within ±15% and ±20% by mid and late century respectively. Changes in multi-year power production will not exceed 5% and 15% in magnitude at the European and national scale respectively for both wind farms in operation at the end of 2012 and planned by 2020. The sign of changes differs from one model to another. Therefore, climate change should neither undermine nor favor wind energy development in Europe (32). From another study based on an intermediate and high scenario of climate change (the so-called RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios) and a large number of global climate models (GCMs) it was concluded that it is more likely than not that wind energy potential will increase over Northern and Central Europe on an annual basis (42).
Within Europe there are regional differences: a tendency toward a decrease of the wind power potential over Mediterranean areas and an increase over Northern Europe (32,42,44,55,56). A robust decrease in wind power is found over the Mediterranean region, with the exception of the Aegean Sea area which exhibits a robust increase (see also (33)). A robust increase is also highlighted over the Baltic Sea (see also (34)).
The potential change in wind power across Europe was investigated for the near-future period 2020-2049, compared with the reference period 1979-2005. This was done for a moderate scenario of climate change (RCP4.5 scenario) and an ensemble of climate models (earth system models, ESMs) (55). The results show a north-south division in changes in wind speed and power output. Mean wind speeds are projected to increase significantly with 2%-4% over northwestern Europe during summer and winter, while significant decreases of 3%-6% are expected for the Mediterranean in winter. Changes during summer are insignificant for southern Europe. Such a north-south division is also present in the annual mean values. The changes in power output are about twice as strong as the changes in wind speed. In northwestern Europe, power production is projected to increase by 4%-8%. In the Mediterranean, power production is projected to decrease by 6%-12% in the winter. These results confirm the conclusions of earlier studies on a north-south division in Europe, with an increase in wind energy over the North and a decrease over the South (56).
The assessment results above agree with the results summarized by the IPCC (2014) and many more (44). For most of Europe (except for the Mediterranean area), wind energy potential is projected to increase for the winter and decrease for the summer. As a result, intra-annual variability of wind energy potential may strongly increase for most of Europe. In general, signals are stronger for the second half of this century compared to the first half and for scenarios of strong (such as the RCP8.5 scenario) compared to intermediate (RCP4.5) global warming. A higher variability can potentially lead to a lower reliability of wind energy as an alternative energy source in future decades (42). No significant changes are expected before 2050, at least in Northern Europe (23). After 2050, the wind energy potential in Northern, Continental and most of Atlantic Europe may increase during winter and decrease in summer (24). For Southern Europe, a decrease in both seasons is expected (42), except for the Aegean Sea and Adriatic coast where a significant increase during summer is possible (25).
The differences in future projections of different models are large, however. Uncertainty about the magnitude of future changes is especially high for large parts of Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. Uncertainties are much lower for Southwestern Europe (42).
Hydropower potential according to other studies
For hydropower, electricity production in Scandinavia is expected to increase by 5-14% during 2071-2100 compared to historic or present levels (22, see also 41); for 2021-2050, increases by 1-20% were estimated (26). In Continental, and part of Alpine Europe, reductions in electricity production by 6-36% were estimated (27). For Southern Europe, production is expected to decrease by 5-15% in 2050 compared to 2005 (28). For 2070-2099 compared with 1971-2000, declines in hydropower potential >15% are projected for south-eastern Europe (Balkan countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia) (41).
Solar energy potential according to other studies
The energy output from photovoltaic panels and especially from concentrated solar power plants in most of Europe is projected to increase (under the A1B climate change scenario) (29).
Thermal power potential according to other studies
A 6-19% decrease of the summer average usable capacity of power plants has been projected by 2031–2060 compared to 1971-2000 (30), while smaller decreases have been also estimated (31).
The production of marine biomass like microalgae for bioenergy and/or biofuel has emerged as a promising renewable energy source. Results suggest that use of marine biomass if commercially realised could potentially be as large and comparable to existing land-based forestry and agricultural energy crops (51).
Vulnerabilities for electricity supply in Europe
Power supply disruptions
Currently, nuclear power has a share of about 28 % in the electricity supply in the EU while the respective share of hydropower is about 12 % (2). Therefore, disruptions in the use of both nuclear power and hydropower plants may have significant impacts on the electricity supply system. Autonomous adaptation in the energy sector takes place via international electricity markets by balancing demand and supply when climate change causes local or regional supply disruptions. Temporary autonomous adaptation in response to extreme weather patterns (heat waves and droughts) has been considered for different climate change scenarios. It has been found that strong declines in electricity generation due to climate change may occur, e.g. in Austria, France and Switzerland. By modifications of European power generation patterns as well as by changes in import and export balances, local electricity shortages can be overcome. Yet, then electricity prices tend to rise significantly in some European countries (e.g. Switzerland and France) (1).
The possibe impacts of climate change on thermal power plants have been inventoried from the literature (9):
- Gradual climate change. Research has shown that a rise in ambient air temperatures of about 1 °C would reduce the thermal efficiency of a thermal power plant by 0.1–0.5 %. The total capacity loss accounts for 1.0–2.0 % per 1 °C higher air temperatures, including decreasing efficiency of cooling processes and shutdowns (7). The effects and the relevance of gradual climate change on the probability of power outages and blackouts are difficult to quantify. It has been stated that by 2040 capacity reductions of 13–19 % are possible due to increasing water temperatures and decreasing runoff in Europe. For the US reductions of 12–16 % in capacity have been estimated by 2040 (8).
- Heat waves. Extreme heat leads to a shortfall in water supply or high river temperatures, influences the cooling of the building itself, and may lead to spontaneous combustion and self-ignition of coal stockpiles (9).
- Wind-related impacts. Wind load pressure can cause the uplifting of tiles and roofs, damage to overhead lines and to storage tanks, and it can lead to damage to insulation and cooling towers (10).
- Thunderstorms. When a lightning strike hits the tank, off-tank fluids may be ignited. Additionally, direct hits or creeping currents can damage electricity distribution and the control equipment necessary for power plant operation (9).
- Water temperature. Rising water temperatures lead to a higher withdrawal of water in order that legal and environmental thresholds for the temperature of discharged water can be met without the need for large reductions in efficiency. If the higher amount of cooling water is still not sufficient, the power plant efficiency decreases further and the energy conversion consequently needs to be reduced in order to meet environmental thresholds (11,21). There are numerous examples, from the United States in 2002, Switzerland (12), Germany (13) and France in 2003 and France, Spain and Germany in 2006 where high ambient water temperatures have resulted in reduced power output at several thermal power plants; some of them even had to be shut down (14). Warmer cooling water was computed to lower thermal power plant efficiency and thus electricity production by 1.5-3% in European countries by the 2080s under emissions scenario A1b (22).
- Floods. Most of the impacts of a site flooding occur to the connected infrastructure, such as uprooting and displacement of storage tanks, rupture of pipes and cable connections, underground breaching of tanks due to collision with debris, disruption of water purification and sewage disposal systems, short-circuiting and power outages resulting in malfunctioning of cooling systems, pumps, and safety systems (15).
Heat wave impacts
Extreme heat waves have an impact on western European electricity supply due to the increased electricity demand for cooling (39) and the power limitation of thermoelectric plants due to regulation constraints concerning downstream water temperature (40). At least the two most severe heat waves during 1979–2008 (those of 2003 and 2006) had a negative impact on western European electricity supply, with shut downs of thermoelectric plants (40).
Therefore, changes of western European heat wave characteristics have been studied for the end of the twenty first century (2070–2099), compared with 1979–2008 (38). Heat waves were defined as periods of at least 3 consecutive days of extremely high daily maximum temperature affecting at least 30 % of Western Europe. For the high temperature threshold the 98th percentile of the daily maximum temperature during March-October was chosen; for western Europe, this more or less agrees with a threshold of 30°C, commonly used to define a “hot day”.
The study is based on 19 climate change models and three scenarios of future greenhouse gasses concentrations (the so-called RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios) that cover a range of moderate to high-end climate change projections. The results indicate a strong increase of the number of heat waves. Besides, the average future heat wave lasts longer, is more extended and more intense. Heat waves with similar or higher severity than observed for the 2003 heat wave remain rather rare, except for the most extreme scenario of climate change (RCP8.5) (38).
For the more moderate scenarios of climate change (RCP2.6 and RCP4.5), the median values of highest simulated severities for all model results are comparable to the 2003 heat wave; for the high-end scenario (RCP8.5), heat waves (median of all model results) with 5 times higher severity than the 2003 heat wave are simulated. For this scenario, planners would need to adapt to yet unprecedented heat wave severities. The spread in results between different models is large for all heat wave characteristics, however. Far more extreme values for heat wave characteristics have been calculated than the median values of all model results: the variability in results due to different models is larger than the variability due to different climate change scenarios (38).
Vulnerabilities for the oil and gas sector in Europe
Climate change and extreme weather events represent a real physical threat to the oil and gas sector, particularly in low-lying coastal areas and areas exposed to extreme weather events. The sector needs to take climate change seriously, assess its own vulnerability, and take appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate any potentially negative effects (3).
The oil and gas sector has been affected by climate-related events in the past, which in many cases have led to oil spills and releases of hazardous materials, thus providing lessons on better preparing for extreme weather events in the future. The impacts of a changing climate will vary depending on location. However, most studies show that oil and gas facilities and infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas and areas subject to severe weather will be most vulnerable (3).
The economic, social, and environmental impacts caused by the disruption of and damage to the oil and gas sector could be huge, with global repercussions. In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated that both the offshore and onshore oil and gas industry remain vulnerable to the impacts of hurricanes. In total, they destroyed 113 offshore platforms and severely damaged at least 163 others (4). These hurricanes also revealed a weak delivery and distribution system. Following the storms there were hardly any options available to deliver the products to the markets because of the onshore devastation (5) that led to a shortage of fuel at pumping stations in several states. In Europe, a severe storm set adrift a drilling rig in the North Sea off the coast of Norway in 2006 (6).
Economic impacts of climate change on energy
Climate change will have negative and positive effects on future energy demand, increasing summer cooling but reducing winter heating (an autonomous response). Additional cooling costs have been estimated at around EUR 30 billion/year in the EU-27 Member States by 2050, rising to EUR 109 billion/year by 2100 (moderate A1B scenario of climate change, climate change signal only, current values, undiscounted) (52). However, a similar level of economic benefit was projected as a result of the reduction in winter heating demand owing to warmer temperatures, although with the benefits arising in different countries.
Europe will use more energy for cooling than can be saved with heating
How energy demand for heating and cooling is estimated
- The indicator ‘Heating Degree Days’ is a measure that reflects the amount of energy needed, for a given day or period, to heat the internal environment in a cold climate to a specified base temperature. Likewise, the indicator ‘Cooling Degree Days’ reflects the amount of energy needed to cool the internal environment in a hot climate to a specified base temperature. It is to be expected that due to global warming the indicator ‘Heating Degree Days’ will decrease across Europe while the indicator ‘Cooling Degree Days’ will increase. It depends on the combination of the two whether less or more energy will be needed to keep our houses, offices and factories at a pleasant temperature all year round.
- For Europe the likely evolution of these indicators until the end of the 21st century was investigated, aimed at providing information on future climate impacts on European energy markets (53). Base temperature values were chosen of 15.5 ∘C for ‘Heating Degree Days’ and 22 ∘C for ‘Cooling Degree Days’. Thus, days with temperatures below 15.5 ∘C were included to estimate changes in energy needed for heating, and days with temperatures above 22 ∘C to estimate changes in energy needed for cooling. Future projections were made for the ‘near-future’ (i.e. 2041 - 2070) and ‘far-future’ (i.e. 2071 - 2100), compared with 1981 - 2010, based on an intermediate (RCP4.5) and high-end (RCP8.5) scenario of climate change run by several climate models (regional and global circulation models). The annual values of the indicator ‘Heating Degree Days’ were computed as the cumulated sum of daily ‘Heating Degree Days’ for the winter season: the period from 1 October to 31 March. Likewise, this was done for the ‘Cooling Degree Days’ during the summer season: the period from 1 April to 30 September.
Less heating in the North, more cooling in the South
- In general, the indicator ‘Heating Degree Days’ is projected to decrease over Europe, and most pronounced under the high-end scenario of climate change and over Scandinavia and Russia. Conversely, the indicator ‘Cooling Degree Days’ is projected to increase, especially over the Mediterranean region and the Balkans. The current values of ‘Cooling Degree Days’ for southern Italy and Greece could become normal for central France and Hungary by the end of the 21st century. Moreover, during the last decades of the century, the use of cooling systems in mid-summer could be adopted in regions where it is currently unusual, such as southern Scandinavia and the Baltic countries (53).
Net impact on Europe’s energy demand depends on population growth
- The impact of these changes on energy demand depends on the population density across Europe. After all, a strong decrease of ‘Heating Degree Days’ in sparsely populated parts of northern Europe may not have a strong impact on Europe’s energy demand. A strong increase of ‘Cooling Degree Days’ in the densely populated Mediterranean Region, however, may be far more important for Europe’s future energy budget.
- If population would remain constant towards 2100, the combined effect of these changes would be a gradual decrease of energy demand over Europe. The indicator ‘Heating Degree Days’ will progressively decrease during the 21st century and this decrease will outweigh the projected increase of the indicator ‘Cooling Degree Days’ under both scenarios of climate change and for all countries. A net energy saving would be the result (53).
- However, the situation is different if projections of future population growth and decline over the 21st century are included in the calculations. Then, despite the persisting warming, energy demand is projected to increase over northern Europe, the Baltic countries, Great Britain, Ireland, Benelux, the Alps, Spain, and Cyprus, resulting in an overall increase of energy demand over Europe (53).
Power supply disruptions
In addition to autonomous adaptation to climate change, strategic public policy intervention may be needed, for instance because the short-term, temporary reallocation of power generation might cause an undesired redistribution of wealth. Such strategic public policy intervention could either target the affected power sector itself or it may (also) address the upstream water supply sector. In the latter case, an improvement of the management of water supply is an option. Improvements in the power sector itself could be attained, e.g., by raising legal standards for power plants’ cooling systems. Also, those rents which decision makers consider to be unfairly usurped by the suppliers at the expense of consumers could be (partly) taxed away (1).
Another option to prevent power supply disruptions is the diversification of the sources of supply. The augmentation of the use of such power plants that do not require cooling systems (e.g., photovoltaic installations) could contribute to the mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change on the electricity supply system (1).
Three kinds of adaptation categories have been identified with respect to thermal power plants (9):
- Adaptation of the cooling options: the use of so-called non-traditional waters (waters that are not withdrawn from a river, lake, the groundwater, or the ocean, but are otherwise obtained from the environment, for instance, recirculation of water from oil and gas fields or coal mines); the reuse of process water; dry cooling towers that emit surplus heat only by convection without causing water loss through evaporation; regenerative cooling where the compressed steam cools down because it is allowed to expand; heat pipe exchangers that allow the conveyed steam to release heat to the environment without direct contact (the cooled/condensed steam can be recirculated).
- Adaptation of the (infra-)structures: adjust standards for construction and protection of power plants and connected infrastructure (16); installation of underground cables instead of overhead wires, as the former are less vulnerable to storm, wind throw, and freezing/ice loads on wire (17).
- Adaptation of the sites: installation of dams, dikes, flood control reservoirs, polders, ponds, and the improvement of channel capacity (18); drainage improvement and rerouting of service water pipes as well as improved pipe isolation (19); zoning, improved building codes and flood insurance (20).
Oil and gas sector
Adaptation options in some cases will require possibly large investments to upgrade facilities, build redundancy and robustness into the systems, and protect critical infrastructure to ensure that it remains operational following an extreme weather event. Adequate contingency planning plus emergency-response and recovery planning and preparedness will also be essential to ensure the safety of people, property, and the environment, as well as business continuity (3).
Cool paint to fight solar warmth
Researchers recently created a cooling paint that can coat just about any surface, lowering its temperature by 6°C. This could drop cooling costs by up to 15% in some climates. White paints typically reflect only about 80% of visible light, and they still absorb ultraviolet (UV) and near-infrared (near-IR) rays, which warm buildings. The new paint reflects up to 99.6% of light, including IR, visible, and UV. The paint also emits additional heat at wavelengths that the atmosphere does not block, thus shedding excess heat into space without warming the surrounding air (58).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Europe.
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