A federal climate research team – the Electricity Sector Climate Information (ESCI) project – this year achieved their $6.1 million goal of delivering high-quality climate data for the electricity sector to use. The publicly available resources of the ESCI project include high-resolution climate models, in-depth case studies, and a full risk assessment workflow – so it’s no surprise that industry leaders are already leveraging these new tools for electricity sector planning and risk modelling.

The ESCI project

Australia’s federal government is focused on delivering a more secure, reliable, and affordable energy market – but what does that look like in the context of future climate risk?

The Electricity Sector Climate Information (ESCI), a government project that provides climate modelling data for the national electricity market (NEM), has spent the last three years answering this question.

Born from recommendations of the 2017 Finkel review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market (NEM), the ESCI project ran from 2019 to 2021, and brought together climate scientists with key actors in the electricity sector.

Collaborators included the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

Key deliverables of the $6.1 million ESCI project include high-resolution climate modelling data, a comprehensive climate risk assessment workflow, and case studies of interactions between climate risks and the electricity market.

Some of the project’s intended outcomes for electricity market players include improving the safety of assets, maximising profitability, and pre-empting future shifts in consumer demand.

What’s on offer?

High-resolution climate modelling

A leading achievement of the ESCI project is the production of high-resolution climate projections that stretch as far as the year 2100, captured at sub-daily intervals.

The ESCI project’s national climate datasets simulate future change in climatic variables like minimum and maximum temperature, rainfall, wind speed, and forest fire danger index (FFDI).

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, climate modelling datasets have been specifically developed to address the interests of the energy industry.

“This data is available across all of Australia, however particular focus has been placed on 168 locations which are of interest to the electricity sector, including major demand centres and transmission lines, renewable energy zones and large conventional generators.”

The ESCI climate datasets, available in multiple formats including maps and time series plots, will empower industry stakeholders to consider how weather and climate variables can affect future infrastructure security, energy generation and demand patterns.

The climate risk assessment workflow

The three-year ESCI project has also delivered a comprehensive Climate Risk Assessment Framework, a five-step method for the electricity sector to integrate climate change risk into future decision-making.

Designed and tested by electricity sector stakeholders as well as climate experts, the ESCI’s Climate Risk Assessment Framework
draws on existing documentation such as:

» International Standard ISO 31000: Risk Management

» International Standard ISO 14090: Adaptation to Climate Change

Each of the five steps in the ESCI’s comprehensive climate risk assessment is described and demonstrated by online user guidance resources.

Why consider climate risk in the industry?

The ESCI project statement points to existing evidence that the climate is fundamentally changing: “Climate impacts on the electricity system have been felt through extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods, wind-storms, drought and fires.”

A climate risk assessment considers the data of climate modelling, then answers the important question of how these trends could affect real-world vulnerabilities of our electricity market infrastructure. Indeed, potential applications of climate risk assessment for the electricity sector include:

» Prioritising climate risks that require mitigation

» Managing asset safety, reliability, and potential for destruction

» Designing new asset specifications for future operating conditions

» Calculating market benefits attributable to regulate investments

» Looking at potential changes in cash flow and profitability

» Considering changes to operating conditions of the integrated power system

Case studies: climate and industry interactions

The ESCI project also delivered key case studies of interactions between climatic variables and industry infrastructure and priorities.

These case studies – covering topics such as the risk of bushfire along transmission routes – help show the applications of the ESCI project’s outputs, such as climate modelling and climate risk management – to solve real-world issues.

Case study: transmission in severe wind contexts

One of the ESCI project’s case studies considers how severe winds can cause transmission lines to fail, affecting the reliability of electricity supply to customers.

According to a Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resource spokesperson, the ESCI project’s latest modelling of severe convective wind shows that “a number of existing transmission lines are built in areas that are vulnerable to high winds”.

“This does not necessarily mean these lines are built in the ‘wrong place’, because these risks need to be considered in conjunction with other business risks.”

The Department spokesperson pointed to risk reduction options such as transmission route planning, asset maintenance, engineering requirements and system redundancy options, to reduce the likelihood and impact of transmission line failures.

New horizons for ESCI data

The success of the ESCI project’s outcomes is already evident in uptake of project data by key industry actors such as the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), and the Australian Climate Service (ACS).

A Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources spokesperson noted that AEMO has already used preliminary ESCI data in the influential 2020 Integrated System Plan (ISP), further stating that “the final suite of ESCI data gives AEMO an unprecedented collection
of cutting-edge climate information to use in the 2022 ISP”.

The ACS, a new Commonwealth body that launched its operations in July, will also draw on ESCI datasets among other resources to support Australia’s preparation for and response to climate events and natural hazards.

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