The coming storm: Building electricity resilience to extreme weather - Full study

Position paper/report Download PDF


In the eye of the storm: unprecedented challenges for the power sector

The European power system is facing unprecedented challenges. COVID-19 challenged how staff and systems worked together and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked an unprecedented energy crisis across Europe. The way out of this major crisis requires decisive action to shift away from imported fossil fuels. Electrification, allowing us to regain our energy independence, must become the norm – and it must go with guarantees on the reliability of the electricity system.

+ 1.5°C by 2030: the dramatic increase in extreme weather events

Latest climate projections suggest that the world is well on its way to +1.5°C by 2030 and each new season brings further proof that climate change contributes to more and more extreme weather events.

Such an increase will affect us all. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects an increase in extreme heat, fire weather, heavy precipitation, pluvial flooding, sea level rise, coastal flooding, and severe windstorms across all of Europe, with only Northern Europe being spared fire weather. Droughts are expected to increase in the Mediterranean and Western & Central Europe. Meanwhile, heavy precipitation, mean precipitation and pluvial flooding are expected to increase across Northern Europe.

All power assets are exposed

All power system assets are exposed to the effects of these growing number of extreme weather events, from generation and transmission to distribution and the final customer.

Hydropower generators face changes in water inflow patterns. Summer droughts cause security of supply and price issues for particularly dependent countries, while winters with increased precipitation and icing in certain regions cause blockages and overtopping.

Thermal and nuclear power plants can have their operation and efficiency reduced during heat waves when cooling water and cooling air temperatures are higher than usual. Most generation assets are exposed in some way to the effects of coastal and inland flooding.

However, some of the biggest impacts of extreme weather affect transmission and distribution systems. Overhead power lines are exposed to high winds, when trees and other vegetation can collide with them, resulting in physical damage and electrical faults. The joints and insulation of underground cables are put under strain during heat waves, especially during sustained heat over several days. Substations, if not well located or sufficiently protected, can be damaged by floods. Wildfires, floods, and high winds can limit the ability of staff to safely access substations and other assets.

From a customer perspective, increased electrification puts more focus on resilience and reliability of the electricity system, with the rollout of EVs, heat pumps, and industrial electrification. Customers can also support the grid during extreme weather events with innovations in flexible markets and microgrids.

Download PDF