Research highlight

Nature Energy Focus issue: How extreme weather events disrupt energy systems

Nature Energy

February 18, 2020

The potential for extreme weather events to disrupt energy systems is examined in six Comment pieces and a research paper published this week in Nature Energy . The Focus issue explores how the impact of extremes under climate change can be studied in different disciplines of energy science.

Climate change is a long-term phenomenon and it has been mostly modelled and studied as such. However, human beings tend to experience the acute effects of climate change via extreme weather events. Moreover, many components of our energy system - from energy finance to legal systems - may be unprepared for extremes and in certain cases may even exacerbate their impacts.

Extreme weather events and weather variations, induced by climate change, can affect both energy demand and the resilience of energy supply systems. However, the specific potential impact of extreme events on energy systems has been difficult to quantify due to the unpredictability of the intensity, timing and location of future extreme weather events. In a research paper, A. T. D. Perera and colleagues present a method to model energy demand separately for average and extreme temperature changes from climate models.

The effect of extremes is exacerbated by herd-behavior in finance by potentially denying capital infusions and insurance to energy firms vulnerable to these high climate risks, possibly leading to physical energy shortages. At the same time, renewable power may not be experiencing the kind of super-exponential growth that is needed to replace curtailed investment in fossil fuels. In her Comment, Amy Jaffe explores the risks of these phenomena and provides suggestions for how to avoid it.

An accompanying Editorial states that, “Accounting for and formalizing the impact of extremes is significant not just because it is the extremes that will break us but because the extremes affect the most vulnerable first and most devastatingly.” This collection, which also includes five further Comments, examines what remains unknown regarding extreme events and our energy systems, and what can be done about it.

doi: 10.1038/s41560-020-0558-0

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