Table of contents

2.1.3. Transportation, transmission, storage and distribution

Energy is provided to final consumers through transmission and distribution networks or transportation services (e.g. for solid fuels). These networks and services are reinforced and supported by storage facilities and technologies. This infrastructure provides the backbone to Europe’s energy system, linking energy supply and demand.

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European energy infrastructure is responding to changes in EU and Member State policies, the international gas market and the need to incorporate renewables into the grid. Generally, energy transportation, transmission, storage and distribution involve large-scale infrastructure that can be disrupted by extreme events related to climate change, including strong winds and precipitation. Damage to infrastructure can cause long-lasting and costly supply disruptions, such as power outages, as well as costly equipment repairs or replacement.

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European electricity grids have increased their level of interconnection in recent years. There are plans to further enhance cross-border electricity transmission capacity – most notably through the EU’s Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E) strategy (EC, 2018v). In 2014, the European Council formulated the objective that EU Member States should have a cross-border electricity transmission capacity that is equal to at least 10 % of their domestic electricity generation capacity (EC, 2018k). Currently, cross-border interconnection capacity ranges from 0 % for Cyprus’ to 163 % for Luxemburg, which is due to its status as small transit country. Seventeen Member States are on track to reach the targets, while Cyprus, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom are expected not to meet the interconnection target for 2020 (EC, 2017g). Interconnections across the EU are posed to increase further, as the European Commission intends to increase the target to 15 % (EC, 2017d). A more interconnected EU grid can increase both vulnerability and resilience, depending on the particular situation and the management of the overall system.

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Some of the latest developments in EU energy market legislation focus on network improvements, and identify the need to address renewable energy generation and its connection into local distribution grids (EC, 2018s, 2016c). Innovation (e.g. the growth of smart grids) is playing a role in increasing the resilience of electricity networks and the integration of renewable energy (EDSO for Smart Grids, 2018). In the area of offshore wind energy, this includes the expansion and improvement of long-distance transmission networks through developing specialist insulation and superconducting materials for sub-sea cables.

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The European gas network can be subdivided into long-distance transport pipelines and distribution grids. Long-distance gas transport is strongly influenced by Europe’s dependence on gas imports from Russia. The EU is aiming to reduce its dependence on Russian gas for political and strategic reasons. It has started to do this with the construction of reverse-flow pipelines (where gas can flow in both directions, thereby increasing capacity) and by increasing connectivity between Member States. However, Germany is currently planning to expand import capacity from Russia through the Nord Stream 2 project (Nord Stream 2, 2018).

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Liquefying and transporting natural gas (liquefied natural gas or LNG) has further revolutionised the global gas market in recent years, by enabling significant natural gas imports from places such as Qatar and Algeria. This also reduces EU import dependency on specific gas pipelines, thereby increasing overall system resilience. Various Baltic Sea states have plans to build new LNG storage terminals. The shale gas boom in the United States provides another source of LNG imports, at least as long as current long term-market prospects will remain the same. Conventional gas and LNG terminals and refineries are largely coastal-based, and are therefore vulnerable to storm surges and sea-level rise.

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Oil infrastructure in the EU is largely owned by private energy companies. A large share of oil refineries in Europe is located at coasts where they are vulnerable to storm surges and wave activity. Pipelines and associated oil infrastructure may also be vulnerable to strong winds.

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Energy storage is an increasingly important part of the energy system. Traditionally, this has focused on facilities for the storage of oil, as all EU Member States are obliged to have oil stocks equivalent to 90 days of oil consumption. Norway, Switzerland and Turkey are bound by similar rules as Member States of the International Energy Agency (EEA). This obligation stems from the oil shocks of the 1970s and is to prevent supply disruptions. Natural gas storage is not regulated in the same way as oil storage, i.e. there are no quantitative requirements for emergency stocks. Storage is vital to gas supply as stored gas forms a large component of fuel supply in winter, and it provides the flexibility to meet peak demands, thereby providing security of supply.

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Electricity storage improves the resilience and flexibility of power supply. This is becoming increasingly important to network operators that need to manage the increasing share of intermittent RES power supply. Pumped hydro has been the main form of large-scale electricity storage employed in Europe, and it is expected to boom in coming years (EC, 2013c). Currently Norway is leading this sector, but there remains significant potential to develop this resource elsewhere if the business case is strong (EASE/EERA, 2017). Large-scale battery storage is very recently starting to be deployed successfully around the world as the cost of batteries declines and the technology improves. Battery storage projects are now also being installed in Europe. For example, a 48 MW facility has opened in Germany in June 2018, and multiple other projects are active or being developed (Colthorpe, 2018). The growth in the use of electric vehicles and residential batteries, combined with smart devices and contracts, has the potential to greatly increase the availability of electricity storage and consequently to improve system resilience. However, such growth may be limited with current battery technologies due to resource limitations including cost, space and rare minerals.

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Heating and cooling storage in underground aquifers is getting increasing attention as a way to optimise the thermal conditions of buildings. Several such systems have been installed in the Netherlands, where it is becoming a standard for new buildings; it has a large potential for application in other countries as well (Bloemendal and Jaxa-Rozen, 2018).

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The vulnerability of storage technologies to climate change impacts varies by type. For above ground oil storage facilities, the vulnerability risk is similar to that for other key fossil fuel infrastructure. Subterranean storage infrastructure should be largely unaffected. Pumped hydro is vulnerable to the same potential impacts as conventional hydropower systems, e.g. drought and flooding. The novelty of other storage technologies presents some uncertainties regarding their potential climate vulnerabilities, although temperature is known to affect the effectiveness of batteries.

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