Land's End, Sennen, United Kingdom
Image credits: Annie Spratt on Unsplash, 2016

Climate change affects the energy sector in multiple ways, ranging from changes in seasonal and annual heating and cooling demands; to risks and opportunities on energy production and supply conditions. Risks include modifications in power plant efficiency rates, problems with cooling water and damage to energy infrastructures caused by extreme weather phenomena. Furthermore, energy infrastructure can be more exposed to damages by changing climate conditions. The European Commission in general aims to increase the climate resilience of infrastructure including energy by providing strategical frameworks like the staff working document on Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change (2013) and “Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy” (2015). These documents guide the assessment of new and existing technical infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, in view of their resilience to current and future climate risks and the respective adaptation measures. Cohesion policy is financially supporting the development of climate-resilient infrastructure under the current programming period of the regional funds (2014-2020) (thematic objective 5)

Policy Framework

The strategic directions and priorities of the European Commission for the energy sector are described in the documents 2030 Framework for climate and energy, the Energy Security Strategy and the Energy Union.

In November 2018, the new long term EU GHG reduction strategy A Clean Planet for All was launched, with the goal of steering the EU economy and society towards a CO2 emissions-free future for 2050. The strategy consists of eight alternative pathways towards this end. The strategy envisages investing into realistic solutions, empowering citizens and aligning action in policy, finance, and research. 

In the light of climate change, the Commission is supporting the revision of standards in infrastructure-related policies also with regard to the energy domain. On the request of the European Commission, European Standardization Organizations as CEN and CENELEC are fostering the integration of climate change adaptation in energy infrastructure standardization since 2014.  Within the Environmental Assessment Directives (Directive 2001/42/EC and Directive 2014/52/EU), climate change is one of the aspects for infrastructure resilience since 2014 on. Environmental Assessment of individual plans, public infrastructure plans or programs ensures that all environmental implications of a project are considered before decisions on infrastructure are made. The Practical Guidance for Integrating Climate Change and Biodiversity into Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Procedures was published by the European Commission in 2013. Furthermore, considerations of climate change impacts were factored into the 2015 guidelines and methodologies of the Transeuropean Network Energy (TEN-E). At this moment, public consultation to revise the Environmental Assessment Directives is taking place.

The European cohesion (or regional) policy, which provides funds to the Member States to develop new infrastructure projects, such as for instance power grids, encourages the assessment of climate resilience of these projects. Based on the information and guidance in the EU Adaptation Strategy and the Cohesion Policy documents, Europe intends to specifically invest in climate resilient infrastructure, in particular to set up renewable energy infrastructure (thematic objective 5).

The 2020 European Green Deal is posed to spur a substantial decarbonisation of the EU energy sector, as this sector is specifically mentioned among those whose policy actions need to be aligned with the European Green Deal. While this is likely to have important consequences on the adaptation options of the sector, no specific strategy has been announced, besides the launch of a general Adaptation Strategy in 2021. Implications for adaptation arising from the announced review of the regulatory framework for energy infrastructure, including the TEN-E Regulation to ensure consistency with the climate neutrality objective, can be expected.


Improving the knowledge base

Relevant information on the impacts of climate change on the energy sector at global level has been provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Incremental risks of climate change on energy systems for global temperature increase of 1.5ºC and 2ºC have been assessed in the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C. The Copernicus Climate Change Service is also launching an operation service for the energy sector to use in their management decisions.

The Joint Research Center (JRC) has carried modelling studies to assess the impact of climate change on the energy sector.

The EEA published in 2019  the report Adaptation challenges and opportunities for the European energy system, which analyses the needs for climate change adaptation and climate resilience in Europe’s energy system now and in the future.

Within the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development (FP7) several research projects that cover the resilience of the energy sector were funded. These include the ToPDAd (Tool-supported Policy Development for Regional Adaptation) project, which provides among others information on impact and vulnerability assessments as well as adaptation strategies for the energy sector, and EUPORIAS, which provides knowledge on future variability of climate to achieve cost-effective solutions for the future operation of the energy grid.

Adaptation to climate change is also one focus of the Horizon 2020 EU funding programme for research and innovation e.g. the resilience of critical infrastructure like smart grids, while the European Program on Critical Infrastructure Protection also includes natural hazards, climate change is not yet part of that program. Methodologies have been developed in order to consider how to use policies on existing infrastructure in Europe in a way that supports the infrastructure resilience. The Horizon 2020 programme is funding projects with regard to the adaptation in the energy sector like RESIN and EU-CIRCLE project. The RESIN project will help cities to come up with robust adaptation strategies on their most critical infrastructure. The EU-Circle project will develop a Union-wide framework to support vital infrastructures to be prepared to natural hazards, including climate change.

Other relevant EU funded activities are the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Knowledge and Innovation Communities KIC Innoenergy and the Climate-KIC.


Supporting investment and funding

EU funding for adaptation is supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, which ensures that climate adaptation including energy related adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes: LIFE programme; European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Further information can be found here.

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