Press release

Energy firms’ climate change plans will keep Britain’s lights on

Energy companies’ plans to protect the UK power supply from the impacts of climate change were published by Defra today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Flooding of sub stations, difficulties in keeping power stations cool in hotter summers and damage to overhead wires and underground cables in periods of drought were amongst the key threats that energy firms found climate change could pose to their business.

The reports, requested by Defra, show that the energy sector is making good progress in planning for these risks - such as £112million of projected investment to improve flood defences at vulnerable sites agreed with Ofgem - but more work will be needed over the coming years to protect existing infrastructure assets and ensure new projects are designed to cope with conditions that will be very different to what they are today.

Following a visit to Enfield Power Station, Environment Minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach said:

“A steady power supply is vital for keeping the lights on and our economy moving. Our energy supply is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as flooding, droughts and difficulties with cooling. We’ve seen in recent years how the flooding of just a single substation can knock out power for thousands of homes and businesses.

“These reports show that energy firms are taking positive action to reduce these risks, but there is no room for complacency and more needs to be done to secure the power we will need in future decades to drive economic growth. What energy firms do now to protect their infrastructure will go a long way to determine how well the UK meets the challenges we know climate change will bring.”

Risks to the energy sector from climate change and actions already being taken include:

  • Increased likelihood of flooding and sea level rises are a risk to power stations. Ofgem has provided £112m to improve flood defences at vulnerable sites as part of the overall 2010-2015 electricity distribution price control settlement. Energy transmitters have drawn up a 10-year investment plan to improve flood defences for 13 sites identified at most risk of flooding which will be put to Ofgem for approval as part of their next price review in 2013.
  • Flooding can also affect water quality in rivers by raising sediment levels. If this water is extracted to produce steam for electricity generation, it can cause damage and loss of performance. E.ON identified this risk at two of its power stations and has now introduced new Reverse Osmosis water treatment plants to tackle the problem.
  • Higher temperatures, especially in summer, present a problem for cooling in power stations. NPower have improved their cooling systems at a number of sites to reduce this risk.
  • Droughts and subsequent ground movement can cause damage and reduced performance to overhead lines and underground cables. The Energy Networks Association are working with DECC and Ofgem on new design specifications for future cables to increase their robustness.

The reports also highlight some opportunities for energy firms, such as reduced impact on performance from snow and ice due to milder winters, and a more even distribution of energy demand throughout the year as winter heating demands drop and summer cooling demand increases.

Richard Busby, E.ON’s Environment Manager said:

“Because of its location, Enfield Power Station doesn’t have access to river water for cooling and has to use air for cooling. Higher air temperatures in summer can lead to a loss of performance so we have been looking at various ways to improve the air cooling system. As part of our strategy to provide cleaner and better energy in the UK, we are committed to providing a diverse range of generating technologies. Our exposure to climate change risks is lower if we are not over-reliant on one type of generation.”

Dr Tony Whitehead, Director of Policy at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said:

“Adapting to climate change must include viewing all the UK’s infrastructure as one integrated system joining together many different types of networks. For example, electricity distribution will increasingly depend upon ICT infrastructure and electricity demand will depend upon transport infrastructure. The UK energy networks are perhaps the foundation of the UK’s infrastructure system, but it is also reliant upon the rest so we must look at the bigger picture too.”

The reports published today will help Government assess the UK’s readiness for climate change and the actions needed to adapt. In January Defra will publish the Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA), a world-leading report that will give the UK the most comprehensive overview of any nation of the challenges climate change will present.


  1. The Climate Change Act 2008 introduced a new power for the Environment Secretary to direct companies with functions of a public nature such as water and energy utilities to prepare climate change adaptation reports on how they are assessing and acting on the risks and opportunities from a changing climate. Reports from transport and water companies were published earlier this year.
  2. The reports are published on the Defra website here.
  3. The companies who have reported are Centrica, Drax Power, EDF, EON, Intergen, International Power, RWE nPower, Scottish Power, Scottish Southern, CE Electric, EDF Energy, Electricity North West, National Grid, Scottish Hydroelectric, Southern Electric Power Distribution, Western Power Distribution, ESP Connections, GTC Pipelines, Independent Pipelines, National Grid, Northern Gas, Scotia Gas, SSE Pipelines, and Wales and West Utilities.
Published 10 December 2011