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4.6. Adaptation case studies from energy utilities and network providers

Public and private energy producers and other infrastructure providers are already adapting to climate change. A report for Natural Resources Canada based on an analysis of 200 projects found that climate change adaptation activities are becoming more mainstream in the energy sector (Braun and Fournier, 2016). The subsector which is most often represented in adaptation activities was energy generation, with hydropower being the dominant sector of the adaptation projects. Ouranos have also developed an online database on climate change adaptation in the energy sector with dozens of case studies (Ouranos and Natural Resources Canada, 2018). The geographical focus is North America, but several European case studies are also included.

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This section presents a summary of five case studies on adaptation actions implemented by energy producers and network operators in Europe. These case studies were selected from several sources based on the following criteria: relevance of long-term climate change, implementation of concrete measures, relevance in a decarbonized energy system, relevance of public policies, availability of information on success and limiting factors and on (expected) costs and benefits, and transferability of results. The geographical distribution of the case studies and their balance across energy system components was also considered. Each of the five case studies is presented with considerable more detail on Climate-ADAPT [add links once published]. [For the purpose of the Eionet evaluation, these case studies are included as a PDF file in an Annex to the report.] An additional example of adaptation to climate change by a large utility is presented in Box 4.2.

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The case studies are rather different, as they have intentionally been selected to showcase the diversity of potential adaptation actions by private actors in the energy sector. However, all of them relate to renewable sources of electricity production or to electricity transmission and distribution. This choice reflects the relevance of these technologies and infrastructure components in a decarbonized energy system as well as the availability of information on implemented adaptation actions.

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The first two case studies are related to hydropower. The largest power producer in France has undertaken a systematic climate change risk assessment for its infrastructure and activities. This company has developed a cost-effective technology to reduce flood risks following heavy precipitation events. The technology has not been licenced, and it has already been applied in numerous locations in different countries. The other case study is from the national power producer in Iceland, which has adapted its hydropower infrastructure and practices in order to exploit increased water availability due to (temporary) increases in glacial melt water. Sophisticated climate projections and economic analysis are central for this case study, as is international cooperation. Both hydropower case studies were implemented without specific policy triggers. The adaptation measures were regarded as cost-effective from the viewpoint of the respective company.

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The third case study is related to power production from biomass. A large power company in the United Kingdom has diversified its supply chains for oversea biomass supply in order to increase import capacity and to build redundancy in the case of extreme weather events. These measures required close collaboration with the owner and operator of the sea ports where biomass terminals were upgraded or newly built. This measure was facilitated by national legislation related to both climate change mitigation (which requires power companies to increase the share of RES) and adaptation (which requires power companies and other infrastructure providers to report on climate-related risks and adaptation measures).

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The final two case studies are related to increasing the climate resilience of power lines. The second largest DSO in Finland is substantially investing in replacing most of its overhead power lines by underground cables, which are protected against most adverse weather events. The substantial costs for doing so are reduced by partnering with telecommunication companies who can use the same excavations for their own communication cables. These measures were adopted in response to a recently introduced legal requirement to limit electricity outages related to extreme weather, in particular storms and heavy snow. A large electric utility company in the United Kingdom is adapting design standards to adapt its distribution network to increasing temperatures. A key cost-effective measure is to increase the design height for wood poles by 0.5 m in order to stay within legal safety limits for overhead lines during heat waves, which lead to increased sagging.

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Box 4.2 Adapting the cooling of nuclear power plants in France to a changing climate

Increasing temperatures and localised water scarcity place pressures on thermal energy production by limiting cooling water sources. Following a series of exceptional heatwaves in France, the French utility company Electricité de France (EDF) initiated the ‘Grands Chauds’ plan in 2008. The aim of this plan is to ensure the safety and supply security of EDF’s nuclear power plants in the face of increasing temperatures. A case study on the adaptation of EDF’s hydropower plants to climate change is presented in Section 4.6.1.

The Grand Chauds plan includes a re-assessments of maximum water temperatures expected at each nuclear power plant up to 2030. Revised temperature estimates have informed the revision of engineering guidelines for extreme weather situations and of safety standards taking into account climate change impacts. EDF has also improved the cooling efficiency of its nuclear power plants through a range of measures, including closed-loop cooling systems. These systems require less cooling water than conventional cooling technologies, though at a higher costs. Furthermore, EDF has established a risk management unit that supports operational teams in determining the need for derogations from regulated limits for thermal discharges during exceptional heat waves (SFEN, 2015).

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