Energy and Meteorology Portal

Effects of Climate Change on Energy Systems

The impacts of climate change on power plants and transmission lines differ according to energy system type and location. Although during the project design for new facilities, climatic factors are considered, weather events are becoming more extreme due to climate change, rendering some of the parameters used in the original design outdated. For example, to design utilities in USA regions affected by hurricanes engineers may use wind loads as high as 1620 Pa or just above 55 mph, but the recent hurricane Ian landing in Florida could have reached up to 74 mph in some instances (NHC-CPHC, 2022). The last IPCC and WMO reports (IPCC 6th Assessment, 2021, Knutson et al 2020) state with medium to high confidence that hurricanes are projected to increase in intensity and frequency and many facilities worldwide were constructed decades ago using parameters derived from historical data that are no longer valid.

A recent review of the potential effects of climate change on energy systems under two different scenarios (below and above 2°C) found that for wind there will be a mild impact, the impact increases for solar and is particularly variable for hydro-generation, with some cases causing >40% reduction, whereas in others, almost a 50% increase (Figure 1) (Yalew et al., 2020).

Effects of Climate change on energy systems fig1

Figure 1. Climate change impacts on energy systems. (a) Impacts per future warming levels and (b) by scenario years/period, as reported by studies on global and regional spatial scales. The box plots display five quartiles. Dots represent individual studies, and boxes represent interquartile ranges. Dots outside the lines are statistical ‘outliers’. ‘Others’ denotes generic assessments and transport/transmission. Source: Yalew et al., 2020

A summary of identified effects that climate change has on the energy system is presented in Table 1.

Climate Change Trends Specific Parameter change Generation Transmission and Distribution Demand Nature based Solutions (NbS)
Increase in Global Temperature
Air Temperature Increase
Generation efficiency
Modest reduction in efficiency of solar PV modules.

Cooling efficiency.
Nuclear and thermal power plants. reduction in cooling systems by increased sea and river temperature, or ambient air temperature and/or relative humidity.

Generation potential
Decreasing hydropower potential due to increased evaporation losses from reservoirs. Shift in hydrological flows due to changes in precipitation type (e.g. snow to rain) and glacial melt.


Need for additional generation capacity due to higher demand
Additional generation capacity in systems with annual peak in summer.

Reduced network efficiency

Modest increase in network losses and line sag reducing available capacity (also dependent on other variables such as wind).

Derating of T&D equipment.

Cooling and heating
Increasing air-conditioning and refrigeration requirements. Decreasing space heating demand.
Reforestation of utilities surroundings
to reduce regional temperature (Vegetation can reduce air temperature by up to 10C and stabilize wind gusts).
Water Temperature Increase
Cooling efficiency
Lower efficiency of thermal and nuclear plant technologies with water-based cooling due to the increasing temperature of cooling water.

Generation potential
Lower generation potential due to ecological constraints on water temperature being fed back into water bodies.
Reforestation of riparian zones.
Reforesting up and downstream from the point of water intake/discharge from the plant.

Increase meanders and ramifications of the streams to facilitate cooling.
Changing patterns of Precipitation & Humidity
Generation potential and output
Changing hydropower potential due to changing patterns of precipitation. Partial output reduction or complete shutdown of thermal plants due to insufficient availability of cooling water.

Peak and variability
Increasing variations in hourly or seasonal peaks of hydropower generation as a result of increased anomalies in precipitation patterns.

Change in exceedance and shorter return periods of flash floods that can damage existing infrastructure, like dams and dikes.

Technology application and development
Constrained application of carbon capture, use and storage technologies where there is increased risk of water scarcity.
Physical risks to grids
Damage to T&D assets due to direct or indirect impacts of heavy precipitation, such as intense rainfall, extreme snowfall, rock and tree falls and landslides.
Increasing air-conditioning load  due to a rising level of humidity in hot weather.

Electricity for water supply
Higher electricity demand to provide drinking and irrigation water in cases of drought.
Sea Level Rise
Sea level rise
Physical risks to generation assets
Threats to existing generation facilities in coastal areas.

Locations for new assets
Limited availability of appropriate locations for new generation.

Tidal generation output
Change in generation output with a faster tidal current resulting from sea level rise.
Physical risks to grids
Increasing vulnerability to coastal erosion and floods, linked to substations often located near main generation plants and load centres in coastal areas.

Locations for new assets
Limited availability of appropriate locations for grid development.
Electricity for water supply
Increasing cases of adopting more energy-intensive methods (e.g. desalination) to provide water due to saltwater intrusion.
Active management of mangroves and marshlands, in combination with hard man-built structures like walls and dikes.
Extreme Weather Events
Heat waves
Generation efficiency
Reduced efficiency of solar PV modules and thermal power plants.
Transmission efficiency
Substantial reduction in line capacity due to increased sag or cable capacity due to heat dissipation limitations.

Derating of capacity to prevent transformer overload.

De-energising lines to prevent potential fires.
Substantial increase in demand due to air conditioning and refrigeration, intensified by the thermal inertia of buildings.
Cold spells & Snow storms
Generation availability
Equipment failure Disruption of fuel supply. Icing of wind turbines rotors and blades
Physical risk to grids
Damage to T & D equipment due to direct or indirect impacts such as extreme snowfall.

Line sagging due to ice weight
Substantial increase in demand due to electricity heating
Storms and Cyclones
Physical risks to generation assets
Physical damage producing power outages.

Lightning strikes on wind turbine blades.
Physical risks to grids
Damage to T&D lines due to flying debris, strong winds and corrosion due to saltwater.

Power outage
Faults caused by flooding of transformer and substations due to storm surges.
Building with nature measures, including restoring and reforesting the floodplains, creation of river diversions and temporary water storage areas and restoration of marshy riverine landscapes.
Physical risks to generation assets
Physical damage producing power outages.
Physical risks to grids
Damage to T&D equipment due to direct or indirect impacts.
Multiple short circuits.
Loss of import/export of electricity.
Maintenance of fire rides. Management of fire fuel, use abrupt changes in vegetation to change fire speed.
Generation efficiency
Reduced efficiency or complete shutdown of hydro-generation and thermal and nuclear plants requiring water for cooling.
Sometimes droughts are associated to hot spells that will increase energy demands.
Reforestation of river catchments specially riparian areas upstream and downstream and management of water table levels.
Physical risks to generation assets
Physical damage of dams and generation plants.
Physical risks to grids
Damage to T&D equipment due to direct or indirect impacts.
Emergency response.
Increase of energy demand from hospitals and other critical infrastructure.
Reforestation of surrounding areas upstream or in slops to increase water absorption, ground stabilisation and slowing flash floods speed.

Sources: Adapted from  EA, (2021)IEA (2015); IEA (2016); IEA (2018) ; EEA (2019); World Bank 2019); IPCC (2018); AEMO (2020b); CPUC (2020); Ebinger et al. (2011); Bierkandt et al  (2015); and Moore (2010).