Emerging climate change risk on energy system security

Dr. Laibao Liu, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at ETH Zurich, email: laibao.liu@env.ethz.ch
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  • Power outage events due to climate extremes

In January of 2022, an extreme heatwave hit Argentina's capital Buenos Aires, and then resulted in a power outage by causing a spike in electricity demand. More than 700,0000 persons are affected in this heatwave according to the National Electricity Regulatory Entity. Last summer in the Sichuan province of China, a power outage occurred as a result of an extreme drought limiting the hydropower supply and a heatwave simultaneously causing a surge in demand, more than 80 million people were affected over some time. Similar power outage events become increasingly frequent worldwide as a consequence of climate extremes.

A child takes bath in a bucket to cool off amid a heatwave warning in China. Credit: Reuters

  • Interface between climate science and energy science

‘My first background is in climate science. You know, climate scientists are very familiar with weather and climate extremes. However, from recent power outage events due to climate extremes, I strongly sense that the interface between climate science and energy science attracts much less attention but is increasingly important for energy system security. Therefore, I decided to start a study about climate change impacts on energy systems', said Laibao Liu, a postdoctoral research scientist at the Institute of Atmosphere and Climate Science, ETH Zurich.

  • Why do we focus on Wind and Solar?

The world is on the way to transitioning from fossil fuels to green and low-carbon energy. Wind and Solar are undergoing unprecedented growth and are anticipated to become dominant power sources in many energy systems. Because wind and solar energy production depends on weather and climate, unlike fossil fuel-dominated energy systems, future energy system operation will heavily depend on weather and climate.

“In fact, this is not my first project at the interface between climate science and energy science. I did some research focusing on China's wind and solar energy, inspired by China's carbon-neutrality goal. This is also part of the reason why we focus on wind and solar energy systems,” said Laibao Liu.

  • What do we find and why these findings are important?

 Our new study published in Nature Energy simply shows that the climate change risk on global wind and solar energy system security, which results from supply-demand mismatch, would increase a lot in many regions of the world.  We emphasize that climate change will impact supply and demand at the same time. Ignoring climate change impacts on either supply or demand will cause biases in assessing climate change risk on energy system security.

 ‘The most concerned climate change indicators are temperature for sure. Warming will cause more cooling demand and less heating demand. However, in the supply-demand mismatch of wind and solar energy systems, supply changes caused by wind stilling might prevail over demand changes caused by warming in many circumstances,’ said Laibao Liu.

 This study provides a very important early warning signal for future energy systems such that the relevant stakeholders can be aware of this issue and make plans to avoid it. Spatially explicit information is provided, so local stakeholders can have a look for climate change adaptation.

Article link:  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-023-01304-w 

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