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GSR 2015 - Increasing Resilience with Renewables

123 07 RENEWABLES 2015 GLOBAL STATUS REPORT 07 FEATURE: USING RENEWABLES FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION There is unequivocal scientific evidence that the earth’s climate is warming and that recent observed changes in the climate are very likely due to a rise in greenhouse gases produced by human activity. While uncertainty remains about the precise extent of climate change and its effects, the most recent assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that climate change will affect both the frequency and severity of extreme weather.1 Examples of increased climate variability include: heightened intensity of rainfall (leading to flooding), storm surges, landslides, extreme winds, freezing conditions, heat waves, and seasonal droughts. Each of these will have an impact on a country’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, tunnels, food and water supply, sewers, telecommunications, and energy systems. Although modern energy systems are susceptible to multiple factors unrelated to weather—such as war, earthquakes, fuel supply shortages, and terrorism—extreme weather and other impacts associated with climate change will further increase the vulnerability of energy infrastructure. Natural disasters that interrupt fuel supply chains and disrupt service are on the rise.2 Moreover, many developing countries depend heavily on traditional biomass for energy; climate-related declines in vegetation can lead to resource scarcity, reducing basic energy access for vulnerable populations. Given the central role that energy plays in economic development and in the overall functioning of society, it is important that energy systems continue to function regardless of varying weather conditions. The use of renewable energy sources (as opposed to fossil fuels) can play a central role. Adaptation refers to adjustments in a system in response to actual or expected stimuli and their effects or impacts in order to moderate or avoid harm.3 In the context of climate change, adaptation refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures that moderate potential damages or capture benefits created by shifts in weather patterns.4 The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) notes that adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, responding to changes that are happening already while simultaneously preparing for future impacts, is vital. Even with a decrease in carbon emissions, societies will still need to adapt to changes caused by past and future emissions.5 It is widely recognised that the use of renewable energy is critical in mitigation—efforts to reduce the scale and rate of climate change.6 However, renewable energy is also an important component of climate change adaptation: 1) in improving the resilience of existing energy systems in the face of the impacts of a changing climate; and 2) in ensuring the delivery of energy services—including lighting, heating, and cooling—under changing climatic conditions.7 INCREASING RESILIENCE WITH RENEWABLES An element of climate change adaptation is to increase the resilience of energy systems to meet demand despite climate- related threats.8 All energy systems are susceptible to climate variability and extremes. For example, decreasing water levels and droughts can lead to the shutdown of thermal power plants that depend on water-based cooling systems.9 Dry periods, alternating with floods, can shift erosion and deposition patterns, altering growth rates of biomass and affecting the quality and quantity of the potential fuel output.10 The melting of glaciers, induced by temperature increases, can have a negative effect on hydropower systems by causing infrastructure damage from flooding and siltation, as well as affecting generation capacity. The efficiency of solar PV declines with high temperatures and dust accumulation, and most of today’s wind turbines shut down in winds exceeding 100 to 120 kilometres per houri .11 Typical responses to reducing system vulnerability involve reinforcing existing infrastructure (including strengthening transmission towers and lines); ensuring redundancy of critical systems; building seawalls around power plants; reducing the need for power plant cooling water; and storing larger quantities of fuel at plants.12 More-innovative strategies include local generation and storage, diversification of energy sources, use of a combination of smart grids and technologies, and improving capabilities to couple and decouple individual systems from the central grid system during emergencies. Although renewable energy systems are also vulnerable to climate change, they have unique qualities that make them suitable both for reinforcing the resilience of the wider energy infrastructure and for ensuring the provision of energy services under changing climatic conditions. System modularity, distributed deployment, and local availability and diversity of fuel sources—central components of energy system resilience— are key characteristics of most renewable energy systems.13 Ultimately, renewable energy systems improve the resilience of conventional power systems, both individually and by their collective contribution to a more diversified and distributed asset pool. i - New technologies are coming onto the market to address the issue of wind turbine shutdown at high wind speeds. Laura E. Williamson (REN21 Secretariat)

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