Climate-driven weather disasters threaten global energy infrastructure, IEA says
Energize Weekly, October 20, 2021
Energy and infrastructure systems built over the last century are becoming more vulnerable to the ravages of climate change-driven extreme weather events, according to a series of reports.
“Extreme weather events over the past year have highlighted the risks of unchecked climate change, and the energy sector will feel the impacts,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its World Energy Outlook 2021.
“Today, the world’s energy infrastructure is already facing increasing physical risks related to climate change, which emphasizes the urgent need to enhance the resilience of energy systems,” the agency said.
The IEA estimates that one-quarter of global electricity networks face a high risk of destructive cyclone winds, and 10 percent of the electricity generation fleet and coastal oil refiners are in jeopardy of coastal flooding.
Meanwhile, a third of freshwater-cooled thermal plants are operating in areas of “high water stress,” the IEA said.
Increases in extreme temperature events, under some scenarios, would double by 2050 and be 120 percent more intense than current heat waves. This would affect the performance of grids and thermal plants at the same they are pushing up demand for cooling.
“These risks are set to increase over time, highlighting the urgent need to enhance the resilience of energy systems to climate change,” the IEA Outlook said.
In the U.S., the federal Office of Management and Budget identified 18,000 federally owned or operated buildings and structures in the current 100-year flood plain with a total replacement cost of $83 billion.
“Tens of thousands of additional assets, with a total replacement cost of $25 billion, were identified in the current 500-year floodplain,” according to a White House report on building a climate-resilient economy. “It is estimated that the Federal structures not examined have a total replacement cost of $1 trillion.”
The U.S. weather and climate-related disasters in 2021 – there were 18 that each caused $1 billion in damage or more – may be a sign of the risks, according to a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) survey.
In the first nine months, disasters cost $104.5 billion, already surpassing the $100.2 billion in costs in 2020.
The events included two floods, nine severe storms, four tropical cyclones, a wildfire, one winter storm cold snap and one drought heat wave. These are four disaster events short of the record 22 set in 2020.
There have been 308 separate weather-related disasters in the U.S. costing $2 trillion in damages since records began in 1980.
“Disaster costs over the last five years (2017-2021) will exceed a record $700 billion, reflecting the increased exposure and vulnerability of the U.S. to extreme weather and climate events,” NOAA said.