Energy need and national emergency supply in a changing climate


As the average temperatures rise, the heating period becomes shorter and less heating energy is needed in Finland. However, the overall consumption of energy continues to increase in future decades, when the growing energy need must be secured in ever more varying weather conditions: alongside the climate change, extreme weather conditions such as storm winds, heavy snowfall and rain and thunder become more common or stronger and may weaken the reliability of energy supply. Despite global warming, periods of freezing weather will continue to create peaks in the demand for energy.

Importance of energy supply for the society

In Finland, energy is mainly consumed as heat, electricity and fuel for traffic. Due to its northern location, high standard of living, energy-intensive structure of the industry, sparse population and long transport distances that increase the need for energy, the importance of energy supply as a basic requirement of well-being is emphasised in Finland. [1].

Excluding a few deviating years, the overall consumption of energy on a national level has nearly doubled since 1970. Although the growth is expected to slow down slightly, the overall consumption of primary energy is projected to grow by 2020. In addition, consumption of electricity is estimated to increase by an annual 1.2 per cent by 2020 [1].

Sensitivity factors of weather and climate in terms of energy supply

The seasons and weather conditions create variation in the overall consumption of energy. While severe cold weather in the winter momentarily increases the consumption of heat, mild winter weather decreases energy need. Of the climate variables, energy supply is most notably affected by temperature, rainfall and wind. [2]

Current energy distribution systems have been planned and adapted to the climate conditions which have prevailed in Finland over the last decades. In the future, energy supply must be secured in more alternating climate conditions, in which forecasts regarding the power and timing of extreme weather still include uncertainty. [1]

Heating need reduced by the rise in the mean temperature

Electricity and heat consumption of temperature-dependent user groups will be particularly affected by climate change. A rise in the mean temperatures shortens the heating period, while reducing the need for heating energy [3]. Instead, the need for cooling and air-conditioning increases, although it does not exceed the decreased heating need. Particularly on the coast, the heating need of buildings is expected to decrease. However, since the climate remains variable, peaks in power consumption during a period of extreme cold must continue to be prepared for. [2]

Energy supply will be hindered by more common occurrence of extreme weather conditions

In the future, power distribution is estimated to be subject to increased strain. Alongside climate change, extreme weather conditions such as storm winds, heavy snowfall and rain and thunder become more common or stronger. These may weaken the reliability of energy supply by affecting the transmission of electricity from the Nordic electricity market and the power and heat distribution systems in Finland. [1]

Climate change is also projected to increase the destructive power of storms. Storm winds may damage overhead lines and lead to even more frequent breaks in power and heat distribution. The risk management of production and distribution plants must cater for the increase in the destruction power of storms. Energy infrastructure located on the coast is most susceptible to severe storms. [1]

In underground systems, damage may be caused by shortened period of ground frost and the ground becoming wet due to global warming. Oil and natural gas pipes are particularly vulnerable to the weakening of the soil. [2]