Written evidence submitted by Supergen Climate Adaptation Working Group
The Supergen Climate Adaptation Working Group (WG) is one of three WGs that have been established to support the Supergen Energy Network Hub’s objective of understanding, shaping and challenging the dramatic changes taking place in energy networks.
The likely effects of climate change on the energy infrastructure are varied, but the most critical impact can be considered in terms of:
Energy availability and demand can be attributed mainly to the increased penetration of renewable energy that is dependent on the weather, like wind and solar, as well as the dependency of energy demand on environmental parameters like temperature. Seasonal heating and cooling demand due to temperature extremes are expected to rise , whereas seasonal variability of primary wind energy would likely increase . In addition, there are regional differences in the above developments that need to be considered, such as the expected growth in wind availability in the North of the UK [1, 2]. One of the two main aspects of energy reliability is considered by the industry to be the “adequacy” of the system. System adequacy provides a direct link between availability of primary energy, demand and the industrial definition of energy reliability.
An example of the potential impact of the latter is the blackout of the 9th August 2019, which was due to an initial local outage that cascaded throughout the electricity system, leading to the loss of significant amounts of electricity generating capacity. Other more recent examples include Storms Arwen and Eunice, which resulted in power outages affecting millions across the country. The uncertainty of such effects is significant, since each individual piece of equipment responds differently to different conditions. The same stretch of power cables supported by a number of pylons may be perfectly resilient to strong winds blowing along its path, but might collapse if the winds shift to be perpendicular.
In order for the energy infrastructure to be resilient against the impacts of climate change, there is a need to address both of the above aspects. Resilience is often defined in terms of a “trapezoid” or a “triangle” function over time, where the measure of resilience of an infrastructure system drops during an event, and is gradually restored by means of measures taken by the infrastructure operators, thus following the corresponding shape [3, 4]. When compound events occur, such as the recent Storms Eunice/Franklin in the South of England, restoration from the first incident is hampered by subsequent events. In addition, when multiple effects take place at the same time, such as increased demand due to low temperatures together with reduced system security due to storm-related faults, these conditions can significantly increase the severity of the impacts on the energy system, leading to widespread outages.
The electricity, gas, water, telecommunications, transport and other critical infrastructure networks have strong interdependencies. They are often described as a “network-of-networks”, or multilayer networks. These interdependencies are very important to the prevention and restoration efforts of critical infrastructure operators . Interdependencies can be categorised as (i) physical, (ii) cyber, (iii) geographic, and (iv) logical . Climate change mainly affects the physical and geographic domains, but there can be an impact on the logical domain when, for instance, supply chains are disrupted. Examples of cross-infrastructure impacts include :
There is a need to establish robust procedures and methodologies for assessing the risk and the resilience of interdependent critical infrastructure systems. This can either be done through high-level methodologies that do not look into the details of individual systems, taking a broader view, or through detailed modelling. However, detailed models would require the collaboration of multiple entities, public and private, in order to be validated and meaningful. There currently no established and commonly accepted definition of resilience across diverse CNI. There is an overarching definition of resilience by the United Nations , as well as individual definitions by industry groups such as CIGRE , but these need refinement and further development in order to be relevant to, and compatible with, other industries.
In terms of the procedures followed by the individual infrastructure industries (electricity, gas, water, etc), these are broadly similar, so there is already a degree of harmonisation . Perhaps the regulators (Ofgem, Ofwat, Ofcom, etc) can play a role into linking the different industries and mandating deeper co-ordination.
Resilience must firstly be defined in the context of CNI, and a commonly acceptable definition should be adopted. Power system resilience is defined by the CIGRE C4.47 Working Group as “the ability to limit the extent, severity, and duration of system degradation following an extreme event” and resilience “is achieved through a set of key actionable measures to be taken before, during, and after extreme events, such as: anticipation, preparation, absorption, sustainment of critical system operations, rapid recovery; and adaptation, including the application of lessons learnt” . Similar definitions likely exist for other critical infrastructure industries. These should be brought together to inform the level of resilience that might be considered acceptable for CNI as a whole. When resilience is viewed as a “trapezoid”, or a “triangle”, this implies a lowest possible level of service degradation, as well as a time to full service restoration. The “acceptable” level of resilience should be defined by these two characteristics.
It is important to note that the above definition is considering resilience in response to an event. A key question with regards to climate change resilience is whether a single-event definition is sufficient or if there is a need for an extended resilience definition, in the face of possibly multiple, subsequent, concurrent and/or compounded events.
Near-term climate change risks appear to be broadly of a similar nature to long-term uncertainties, in the sense that extreme events occur probabilistically. What changes is the likelihood of occurrence and the intensity of an event – what was a “once in 50 years” storm is expected to become more frequent. This uncertainty itself is a major obstacle, although climate modelling can offer some potential insight (see technological solutions below).
In line with the recommendations of the recent report on resilience by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) , systematic and holistic stress-testing approaches need to be developed and applied to individual CNI as well as integrated CNIs. These stress-testing approaches should be able to generate stress scenarios, in a random fashion, that may affect the resilience and functionality of a CNI and quantify their impact using integrated resilience metric systems. This systematic approach would provide useful insights on the “breaking” or “tipping” point of a CNI, which will drive the resilience investment decision-making to enhance the performance of the CNI to events identified close or beyond this “tipping point”. The respective regulators should oversee the development and implementation of these stress-testing approaches, and they should be updated regularly to include potentially new identified threats to the functionality of CNIs.
Our security strategy must embed climate adaptation throughout. Moreover, it has to go beyond a simple recognition that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather is increasing.
Make full use of the Adaptation Reporting Power
The UK Climate Change Act gives the Secretary of State for Defra the power to direct organisations to assess climate risks and report on what they are doing to adapt to climate change. The sectors with more robust regulation and reporting requirements are making more progress with respect to their adaptation to climate-related risks. However, in recent years reporting has become voluntary and there are gaps in the organisations being invited to report, leading to a patchy understanding of the climate risks facing the UK’s critical national infrastructure. For example, the move to consolidate findings into sectoral reports has meant that no individual broadband or mobile phone operator has reported to government recently. Neither have many port operators who are so crucial to ensuring continuity of supply chains, nor the owners or the Toddbrook Reservoir in Whaley Bridge, which partially collapsed in August 2019, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate. It may be prudent to extend reporting to some local organisations who play such a crucial role in the provision of infrastructure services and emergency response. In the context of national security, the continuity of infrastructure services and supply chains is crucial. Full use of the existing legislation  on adaptation reporting gives us the opportunity to understand how well risks are being managed.
Leadership to manage complex and long-term risks
Our 2021 Progress Report  to Parliament showed how responsibility for climate risk is spread across UK government departments. Although Defra leads development of the National Adaptation Programme for England, they do not own the risks to critical national infrastructure. The UK government’s central risk register , managed by the Cabinet Office, focuses on incidents rather than long-term risks. There is a disconnect between managing the long- and short-term risks. Moreover, no department or minister currently has explicit responsibility for the management of infrastructure interdependencies and the cascading failures seen in Arwen or the 2019 lightning strike  which accompanied a powerful electrical storm on one of the year’s hottest nights.
The government has a responsibility to systematically look at longer-term, more extreme and unexpected threats, which individuals or individual organisations are unable to think about or address. Government has to look at how critical national infrastructure systems function, what the vulnerabilities are within those systems, stress test them against the threats to which they might be exposed and identify proportionate actions to manage those risks. Establishing an Office for Strategic Risk and Resilience in the Cabinet Office would be one way of achieving this.
Give existing policies real teeth
The number of critical infrastructure sectors and climate risks can sound complex, but we have already developed several useful tools to help manage long-term climate risks. Examples include the Thames Estuary 2100 plan to manage flood risk to London and the Thames Estuary, and Shoreline Management Plans, which cover England, Wales and some of Scotland. These bring together lots of stakeholders to develop a long-term strategy to manage climate risks to people, the economy and environment in the coastal zone. However, they are not statutory; local government, and other important owners are therefore able to ignore their recommendations. The current disjoint between risk management, planning and development is not just limited to coastal areas and is locking-in climate risks to our built environment and critical national infrastructure.
Proactive prevention and preparation, not reaction and reconstruction
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of preparation and prevention – the same is true of climate risk. The latest UK and international scientific assessments  show that the frequency and intensity of climate hazards are increasing. Our policies, regulation and practice must therefore be strengthened to embed climate adaptation throughout to tackle emerging risks from critical infrastructure interdependencies and to avoid locking-in vulnerabilities to our national security.
The incidence of storms, flooding and similar climate-related adverse events can be modelled to some extent by climate modellers and organisations such as the Met Office. When such climate models are combined with infrastructure models, the impact of climate change on infrastructure systems can be assessed. Given careful benchmarking and validation, the relative change in metrics such as those related to power system reliability can be estimated and quantified.
In addition, Artificial Intelligence (AI) approaches can be used to enable the decision-making of a system operator on the most suitable operational planning, preventive actions to be applied so as to prepare the system as best as possible to the upcoming event . Such solutions have been theoretically proven to efficiently prevent the uncontrolled propagation of cascading failures and perform similarly to an ideal decision-making process, whilst being computationally much faster.
It is essential that climate modelling organisations such as the Met Office and academic institutions are fully engaged in the development of a climate change adaptation strategy.
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25 February 2022