Table of contents

1.1.2. Challenges facing the European energy system

The European energy system faces several important challenges. First, due to its large reliance on fossil fuels, the energy sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe. The decarbonisation of the energy sector plays a central role in achieving a climate neutral economy in Europe; it also reduce other environmental impacts, such as air pollution. However, the clean energy transition requires wide-ranging changes in how energy is produced, transported and used (EC, 2018j, 2018r). Second, Europe’s energy supply is highly dependent on imports from outside the European Union (EU), including from politically instable regions. As a result, geopolitical tensions can threaten the security of energy supply in Europe (EC, 2014). Third, modern societies and economies are increasingly dependent on a reliable energy supply. Even short interruptions in electricity supply can lead to high economic and social costs, because most economic and financial activities, transport, water supply and the provision of health services rely on information and communication technologies powered by electricity.

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On top of these challenges, all parts of the energy system, from energy production and transformation through to transmission, distribution, storage and demand, can be impacted by weather and climate, including long-term climate change (see Figure 1‑1). Gradual changes in climate can affect the availability of important resources such as water for hydropower and for cooling thermal power plants. They can also affect energy demand, in particular related to heating, cooling and desalinisation. Sea level rise can threaten coastal and off-shore energy infrastructure. Weather extremes such as floods and storms can lead to black-outs due to flooding electric substations or windfall on power lines. In response to the challenge from climate change impacts, the EU has adopted an EU Adaptation Strategy in 2013, which was evaluated in 2018. 

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The sensitivity of the energy system to climate change and variability is changing over time as a result of the clean energy transition, which involves a rapid increase in renewable energy sources, a stronger role of electricity as energy carrier, a decentralisation of energy production, increased energy storage, and increases in energy efficiency. Considering the crucial role of secure and affordable energy for European economies and societies and the massive investments planned in the European energy system, it is important that the clean energy transition considers the impacts of climate change on the current and future energy system (EC, 2018m).

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Figure 1‑1 Weather and climate impact the energy sector on all time scales

Source: (Troccoli, 2018). Reproduced with permission.

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