Larger companies may find it easier to adapt electricity grids to climate change, suggests a recent study from Norway and Sweden

A recent study has explored how national regulations and culture, company size and experience with weather incidents have influenced adaptation to climate change in electricity distribution companies in Norway and Sweden. Smaller companies in a strongly regulated environment, with less experience of extreme weather events, may find it more difficult to pursue climate change adaption results, the study suggests.

This study investigated the extent to which four electricity grid companies in Norway and Sweden have adapted to potential changes in the climate. Both countries have similar climate conditions, but the companies operate in different national contexts. Two large-scale and two small-scale electricity grid companies in each country were analysed for their response to the impact of increased temperatures and precipitation (rain and snow), greater variability in the weather and more extreme weather events anticipated in the future. The researchers explored the company adaptation responses using information from national and local official reports, in addition to interviews with a variety of stakeholders, including company representatives, municipal authorities, regulators and interest groups.

Of the four companies investigated in this study, investments by the two Norwegian companies were found to be strongly based on economic efficiency. This approach reflects the influence of the national regulatory framework that is efficiency-focused, in addition to an organisational culture where economic efficiency has a higher profile than other issues, such as the robustness of the system and the grid.

In contrast, the two companies in Sweden focused on investments that balance robustness of the grid and economic efficiency, reflecting the national regulatory framework. The Swedish companies have consequently been able to invest more in adaptation measures than the Norwegian companies.

A major storm in Sweden in 2005 caused wide-spread damage and influenced climate views of Swedish electricity companies. The extreme weather event exposed the vulnerability of the grid to future severe storms. One consequence has been for the larger Swedish company to speed up investment in underground cables to replace overhead transmission lines. Such investments are also seen as economically feasible in the long term.

In Norway, the companies have experienced an increased frequency of heavy snow. While the companies regarded the replacement of overhead lines with underground cables as  too costly, the larger Norwegian company has adapted by increasing maintenance of the system, in addition to investing in insulated overland lines which are stronger and better able to withstand the weight of the snow.

In addition, the larger companies have more resources to plan for adaptive measures to cope with future climate change than the smaller companies. Local knowledge in small companies does not provide enough expertise for adapting to future vulnerabilities.

Source: Inderberg, T.H. and Løchen, L.A. (2012) Adaptation to climate change among electricity distribution companies in Norway and Sweden: lessons from the field. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability.17 (6-7): 663-678.

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About Magdalena A. K. Muir

Magdalena AK Muir, B.A., J.D., LL.M. is Adjunct Professor at John Hopkins University, where she teaches on offshore wind, ocean energy and offshore grid infrastructure marine in the Masters of Science- Energy Policy and Climate program. Magdalena is Associate Professor, Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, and participates in the Nordic Centre of Excellence for Strategic Adaptation Research (NCoE NORD-STAR) on adaptation to climate changes in Scandinavia and the Arctic. She is a Research Associate with Arctic Institute of North America, a bi-national research institution based at the University of Calgary, and teaches on international energy issues at this university. She is a member of the Law Society of Alberta and is a practicing barrister and solicitor with International Energy, Environment and Legal Services Ltd.. For the Arctic, Magdalena collaborates with the University of the Arctic and the Centre for the North Roundtable of the Conference Board of Canada, and is a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. . Since 2004, Magdalena is Advisory Board Member, Climate with the Coastal and Marine Union (EUCC), leading their engagement on sustainable energy development in Europe, including offshore wind and ocean energy and grid infrastucture. She is active on European climate adaptation and mitigation policy, and in the QualityCoast global programme for sustainable tourism destination criteria. Further information on these EUCC activities are found on the EUCC webpage entitled: Articles and Presentations on Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change for Biodiversity, Ecosystems, Energy and Water ( Dr. Muir has the following research projects, which are implemented in cooperation with the AINA, John Hopkins University, Duke University, Aarhus University and the NCoE NORD-STAR. - Adaptation Governance for Global and Climate Change in the Circumpolar Arctic - Arctic Resource Development and Climate Impacts, Adaptation, and Mitigation - Beaufort Sea Project for Climate Change: Impact and Adaptation to Climate Change for Fish and Marine Mammals in the Canadian Beaufort Sea - Changing Oceans in a Changing World - The Circum-Arctic Health Project : Northern & Remote Community Health & Resilience Considering Economic & Environmental Changes - Parallels for Arctic and Antarctica Governance and Resource Management - Sustainable Energy Development - Sustainable Tourism See for further information on these projects

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