Climate Services for the Energy Sector: A New GFCS Priority Area

By Alberto Troccoli1 and WMO Secretariat2

Energy systems are the engine of economic and social development. Their investments represent a sizeable portion of a country’s GDP. Indeed, energy is essential to practically all aspects of human welfare, including access to water, agricultural productivity, health care, education, job creation and environmental sustainability. Furthermore, energy sector emissions, such as CO2, account for the largest share of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Emissions reduction targets under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are expected to significantly increase demand for energy from renewable sources – which are highly sensitive to climate – as well as demand for energy efficiency measures. 

Energy planning and operations in general are markedly affected by meteorological events. Although this is certainly the case for renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydropower and for electrical distribution and transmission systems, the more traditional energy sources can also be severely impacted by extreme weather climate events. Thus, by properly taking into account weather and climate information, energy systems can considerably improve their resilience to weather extremes, climate variability and change. Climate services can also support increased development and use of renewable energy sources.

The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) has developed a strategy for improving climate services for the energy sector and providing decision-makers with enhanced tools and systems to analyse and manage risks, under current hydro-meteorological conditions, as well as in the face of climatic variability and change. Approved by the World Meteorological Congress in June 2015, Energy is a new priority area of the GFCS in addition to health, water, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and food security and agriculture. The strategy illustrates a vision of how the development and application of targeted climate products and services through the GFCS can help improve efficiency and reduce risk associated with hydro-meteorological hazards affecting energy systems, in particular to support:

  • Greater climate resilience and adaptation across the sector, due to its fundamental importance for development;
  • Efficiency and reduction of energy consumption with consequent emissions reduction in support of mitigation targets; and
  • The growing renewables sub-sector, given the apparent climate sensitivity of renewables on the one hand and the policy priority accorded to them due to their GHG emissions reduction benefits on the other.

Underpinning the development of the GFCS Energy Exemplar is the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL)3. The vision of SE4ALL is for governments, businesses and civil society to work in partnership to make sustainable energy a reality for all by 2030. The vision underscores the importance of energy issues for sustainable development and for the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda. Access to energy is inextricably linked to improved welfare and human development since energy services have a direct impact on productivity, health, education and communication. 

As stated in the GFCS Implementation Plan, (WMO 2014a, page 13) “The natural evolution of Framework-related activity will see other sectors come into focus. As an example of a sector that is likely to be considered as one of the next priority areas, the energy sector is recognized for its importance in sustainability and in climate adaptation and mitigation. This sector is particularly sensitive to weather and climate and is therefore an experienced user of climate information.”

 Wilbanks, 2014)

Interactions between impacts of climate on the energy sector in relation to other sectors (Source: Wilbanks, 2014)

The GFCS offers a unique opportunity to provide an overarching framework to help guide investments for the development of key enablers such as user interface platforms, climate services, observations, research and capacity building. These will ensure a more robust implementation of resilience and adaptation measures for the energy sector. 

Towards a more climate resilient energy industry 

Accurate assessment of climate risks in the energy sector is difficult because of the uncertainty in predicting the level, impacts and timing of climate threats. Overall, the energy sector needs to develop resilience to climate change impacts through technological solutions, proactive climate design considerations, flexible management practices as well as preventive emergency preparedness and response measures. While recognising that the complexity of the industry does not allow for a unique and simple way to meet these goals, a viable approach is to adopt a classification that reflects the various project stages of a generic energy industry project, namely from planning to construction, to operation and maintenance, including also the balancing of supply and demand. This classification would align with the timescales of weather and climate information and their level of detail and accuracy. Thus, the energy sector stages, or areas of focus, which form the backbone of the GFCS Energy Strategy, along with their main requirements for climate information, are: 

  1. Identification and Resource Assessment – Requires climate information (historical and projected) and policy for an initial assessment of the energy resource and the required infrastructure and for management of weather/climate hazards and risks.
  2. Impact assessments (including infrastructure and environment) – Requires detailed and tailored weather and climate information (historical and projected) for codes, standards, site-specific designs and policy to assist with the construction and maintenance of the energy system infrastructure (for example, power plants, solar collectors or coal mines), including connecting infrastructure for energy transmission, distribution and transfers. It also requires detailed site-specific and regional climate information (mainly historical) and policy forassessmentsandmitigationofimpactofenergy systems on the surrounding environment (for example, air quality modifications), on human health (for example, air particles), on ecosystems (for example, solar plants, marine turbines) and wildlife as well as potential contributions to GHG reduction.
  3. Site Selection and Financing – Requires highly detailed site-specific climate information (mainly historical) and policy for rigorous resource assessment, risk management and financial closure.
  4. Operations and Maintenance – Requires highly detailed site-specific weather and climate information (predicted, historical and projected) and policy for an efficient running of the energy system as well as site maintenance (for example, on/off-shore wind turbines or oil rigs). 
  5. Energy Integration – Energy supplied by individual generators need to be dispatched in a balanced/ integrated manner to suitably meet energy demand.
  6. Market trading (including supply and demand forecasts) and Insurance – Requires highly detailed weather and climate information (predicted and historical) and policy for an efficient use of generated energy via optimal balancing of supply and demand as well as for pricing of the insurance structures used to hedge against market volatility and/or risks to assets such as wind farms, oil rigs and transmission infrastructure.
  7. Energy efficiency – Requires highly detailed climate information (predicted, historical and projected) and policy for an efficient use of generated energy via measures such as optimal infrastructure siting or use of shading on hot days to offset air conditioning energy use. 

The scope and breath of this classification point to an overarching need to compile, assess and learn from past and current projects, which can indicate good practices, gaps and opportunities for the next many years of work under the GFCS. The GFCS serves as an institutional structure to facilitate this stocktaking, helps standardize and institutionalize good practices, and brings partners together to innovatively respond to energy user needs by managing climate risks to energy. It aims to facilitate and structure the process toward eventually mainstreaming climate services for the energy industry. 

 Wilbanks 2014)

Building on existing expertise and structures 

The GFCS Energy Strategy has identified three conditions (or principles) for a successful implementation, which involves a full engagement of the energy industry, power suppliers, transmissions and distribution operators, finance and insurance providers, and energy market operators. Depending on the situation, such entities can operate at local, national, regional or, sometimes, at global level. The following conditions are critical to encourage this ownership on all sides and facilitate joint implementation of climate services for energy:

  1. Stock Taking – Overview of relevant current activities in the area of weather/climate and energy so as to have a detailed landscape of the state-of-the art.
  2. Harmonize activities – Coordination of available activities whenever there is a perceived benefit for doing so by a range of stakeholders. The GFCS is not meant to replace current activities but to provide a harmonization platform, which would allow stakeholders to increase their awareness of available data, tools and policies.
  3. Add value – Provision of a platform for collaboration amongst energy sector stakeholders with a need for improved climate services. The GFCS will facilitate the implementation of new complementary projects.

The GFCS aims to provide a coordinating mechanism to allow energy sector stakeholders to acquire wider access to relevant climate expertise, information, tools and policy. While some energy stakeholders are well versed in the use of climate information, the large majority cannot afford to have climate specialists in their ranks. Similarly, engagement with energy-sector stakeholders will enable hydro-meteorological specialists to better understand and respond to the sectors needs. In either case, information gathering and sharing is a worthwhile investment in this burgeoning relationship between energy, meteorology and climate. 

The GFCS seeks to promote support for its vision and activities at national, regional and global levels, building on existing partnerships and avoiding duplication. This principle can be implemented through active engagement in the working mechanisms, programmes and activities of the energy sector. While energy companies generally have a good appreciation of weather and climate information, technology and science advancements mean that weather and climate information is becoming broader and more sophisticated. The challenge for the GFCS is to enable effective communication between a science-led provider community and a business-driven sector. Decision-making will take place whether or not adequate climate information is available. However, improved climate services, as developed with the GFCS strategy, will aid decision-making by reducing risks or reducing costs of the decision.

Finally, the success of the climate services for the energy sector relies on the development of formal partnerships and collaborations with agencies, organizations and bodies working on energy, such as UN Energy, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), International Energy Agency (IEA) and World Energy Council (WEC) as well as organizations working at the intersection between energy and climate. Overall, the underlying approach must be one which adopts weather and climate information with the sole purpose of genuinely addressing key and relevant energy industry challenges. While flexibility in approach is essential, a key role of the GFCS, as a global over-sighting effort, will be to ensure partnerships that include as many stakeholders as possible in the value chain – from energy exploration to consumption – are built. Such partnerships would have the potential to attract a solid buy-in from additional industry players, and hence, lead to the strongest outcomes.

Contribute to transformation

The energy industry is complex and undergoing a major transformation, involving an increasingly diversified supply base (for example, with the widespread rooftop solar systems) and less predictable demand patterns. A consequence of this is that weather and climate are becoming increasingly critical to the balancing of energy supply and demand. By leveraging the power of improved, more user-friendly climate services, the GFCS has a clear opportunity to beneficially contribute to this transformation. Sustained, effective leadership and coordination are, however, crucial if climate services are to be embraced and adopted by the energy industry. 


1 World Energy & Meteorology Council (WEMC)
2 Roberta Boscolo, World Climate Research Programme 

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