How will climate change impact power generation?

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the World Economic Forum had highlighted1), that climate change was the greatest threat to businesses and industries.

Article by Kristian Orispää

In Sweden, the ambitious KLIMPEN project is underway to understand the climate impacts and opportunities for increased sustainability in the power generation industry. Within the project there are working groups focused on various forms of energy: hydro, nuclear and wind power, solar energy, biomass, as well as power distribution and energy use.

Fredrik Aronsson, Risk Engineer at If P&C Insurance and Chairman of If's Energy Competence Center, explains, “The KLIMPEN climate research project started in January 2020 and is expected to be completed in March 2021.

Government research institutes for energy and the environment are involved including the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI), alongside notable energy power companies such as Vattenfall, Statkraft and Fortum. All of which have influence and assets in the energy production sector in Sweden and in the Nordics.”

Painting a picture of the future

“The work is basically laid out as research done by SMHI, who are actively studying changes in the climate and modeling potential future outcomes over the coming 20, 30 and 40 years going forward in Sweden. From looking at wind, temp, precipitation, as well as snow and ice formation, SMHI experts will present conclusions for each energy segment.”

The aim of the project is to prepare stakeholders for the future. How will the changes in the climate affect the energy system? What adaptation measures may be needed? How can companies be prepared for changed production conditions?

KLIMPEN features multiple working groups, each dedicated to a specific energy production or distribution related topic. Authorities and representatives from energy companies, and If P&C Insurance, who is involved as a sponsor and contributing to risk management and claims knowledge and supporting the coordination of the working groups.

Climate scenarios for each energy segment will provide vital information and data that will help both companies and municipalities prepare for the potential impacts a changing climate will have in their region, or on their operations in a given location.

Focus on safety

As an example, the nuclear energy working group, which includes a company from Finland, is looking at the potential risks facing the very foundations of safe nuclear energy production.

These are; to control the core and maintain stability, keep the core cool (also after shutdowns or incidents, specifically to control the decay heat) and to contain radiation as much as possible if an accident occurs. The question this working group will focus on is; how will climate change impact these overarching safety goals?

With this climate research project, Sweden has been modeled from south to north and the research utilises measured data and runs simulations that cater to a variety of meteorological scenarios.

For example, samples are created for specific geographic regions where observations and predictive modeling have been completed with increasing climate temperatures to understand how the area will develop over the coming decades.

Examples of a changing climate

The formation of frazil-ice, a type of frozen water that has been observed to form in subcooled moving water, can occur quickly and may block cooling-water intakes at nuclear power plants.

In 2008, this very scenario unfolded at the Olkiluoto 2 nuclear production plant in Finland. As seawater rapidly cooled down, frazil ice formed to block the circulating water screening filters and weakened the flow of seawater, which was used as coolant at the power plant. There have been at least three such incidents at Olkiluoto 2 since it was commissioned, subsequently leading to improvements made to prevent frazil-ice from forming.

(Source: STUK report)

We need to be prepared

Substantial changes are needed to slow down the changing climate. The KLIMPEN climate research study will be a vital piece of the puzzle in preparing for changing weather impacts across all the Nordic countries.

As Fredrik Aronsson concludes, “The results and data from the project will visualise the type of risks that we are facing and can be used to strengthen the importance of prevention, prepare for future risks and help minimise losses from potential changes in the climate.

The final working group reports, due for publication in the beginning of 2021, will identify the risk areas, and capture how the experts see the impacts of a changing climate in power production in a particular region in Sweden. After this, it is up to each energy producer, municipality or other authority to decide what they should focus on, to ensure that they are resilient enough to the coming changes, and will we need to step up to the challenges ahead.”

The KLIMPEN project will provide valuable insights into the future of power generation in Sweden. However, the results and outcomes of this research will be valid and applicable to any industry or location.

These exposures are universal, and therefore the learnings from this project will add value to assessing risks from climate change, whether this is from, frazil ice, wildfires, floods or other phenomena, which can occur anywhere in the world. 

1) WEF Global Risks Report 2020