The Top 5: Risks to Renewable Energy from Climate Change

Highlights :

  • Top 5 risks to renewable energy from climate change are: Water Scarcity, Changing Wind Patterns, Temperature Increases, Impacts of Tropical Cyclones, and Droughts

Climate change has already started posing real-world challenges. It is not just affecting adversely the developmental plans but is also disrupting the livelihoods of a considerable section of the human population in the regions prone to climate change disasters such as floods, droughts, sea level rise, etc. Renewable energy (RE) has given a push developmental goals in a bid to reduce harmful emissions and consequently halt climate change. However, tapping renewable energy out of renewable sources is affected by climate change as well.

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Apparently, climate change is a direct effect of rising levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. While using renewable energy comes as a solution to the problem of climate change, RE itself is not immune to the adverse phenomenon.

Different weather patterns, whether it’s sunny, windy, or rainy, can have a significant impact on how much renewable energy is produced. In addition, the variability in renewable energy produced is also dependent on various factors, such the geographical location, weather conditions, infrastructure, and many more. Thus, even renewable energy faces risks from and is dependent on the climate and its change. This piece briefs the top 5 risks to renewable energy from climate change.

#1 Water Scarcity

The dearth of water also affects most renewable energy production types. For instance, producing hydrogen from renewable resources involves the electrolysis of water – about 9-10 litres of water to create one kilogram of Hydrogen. In addition, it is also required to keep the electrolyser cool. The requirement for water is only going to rise as the hydrogen market is estimated at 2.3 gigatons requiring about 20.5 million metric cubes of pure water. This way hydrogen-based RE is competing directly with industry, agriculture, and households for the precious resource.

Climate change-induced water scarcity can indirectly hinder the effectiveness of several renewable energy technologies that rely on water for cooling or cleaning, such as reduced water availability for hydropower plants and decreased efficiency of solar panels due to dust and dirt accumulation. Changes in precipitation and temperature due to climate change could shift hydropower generation potential and output.

Water scarcity will also adversely impact critical minerals supporting renewable energy production and expansion. Water is a fundamental requirement for both open pit mining, where it is used to control dust and clean equipment, and underground mining, where it is used to transport ore to the surface. However, as aridity intensifies and rainfall decreases in mining areas, water shortages could significantly hamper the production of critical minerals.

#2 Changes in Wind Patterns

Climate change can alter wind patterns, which can affect the output of wind turbines. For example, changes in wind speed and direction can reduce the efficiency of wind turbines or make them inoperable.

Climate change impact of Wind power

Source: Climate Resilience for Energy Security. IEA


As per one IEA report, the wind would become the largest source of electricity generation, accounting for 36 per cent of total electricity generation, as the total wind power capacity will expectedly reach 7 795 GW in 2050. However, climate change can reduce wind power generation in some regions by decreasing mean wind speed. About 11 per cent of wind power plants could see an over 5 per cent decrease in mean wind speed in a low-emissions scenario. In a high-emissions scenario, it can see a decrease of up to 18 per cent.

In addition, extreme heat can decrease wind power generation, with reduced life spans and automatic shutdown. Since major wind power generators are located in the northern hemisphere, where mean wind speed would decline, climate change could have negative impacts on global wind power generation.

#3 Temperature Increases

The efficiency of certain renewable energy technologies, like solar panels and wind turbines, may be hampered by higher temperatures, resulting in reduced output. As per US-based solar equipment supplier CED Greentech, high heat can severely reduce the ability of solar panels to produce power – by about 10-25 per cent.

Climate change Impact of solar PV power

Source: Climate Resilience for Energy Security. IEA


Further, high temperatures and dust accumulation can impact wind turbine performance and increase the maintenance burden and operating cost of wind turbines in desert regions. Furthermore, temperature spikes can escalate the need for cooling, leading to increased electricity demand during peak periods.

#4 Impacts of Tropical Cyclones

Solar PV panels can be also damaged by flying objects during tropical cyclones. In Japan, Tropical Cyclone Faxai destroyed the biggest floating solar plant (13.7 MW) in 2019 by tearing the modules off and causing fires. Tropical Cyclone Maria destroyed the 100 MW solar PV system near Humacao in Puerto Rico in 2017.

With more debris and sediment due to intense tropical cyclones and their associated events, such as landslides and floods, there is an increase in risks of physical damage to hydropower assets. Due to climate change, the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones have increased recently, threatening RE projects and output.

#5 Frequent and Intense Droughts

Frequent and intense droughts can pose significant risks to renewable energy production. Droughts can cause a decrease in water availability in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, which can reduce the generation of hydroelectric power. In severe cases, prolonged droughts can even cause hydroelectric power plants to shut down temporarily or permanently due to insufficient water supply.

IEA assessment risks of Hydropower

Source: Climate Resilience for Energy Security. IEA


Droughts can increase the accumulation of dust and dirt on solar panels, reducing their efficiency and performance. Dust particles can block sunlight and decrease the amount of energy that solar panels can generate. Additionally, droughts can result in hazy skies with increased air pollution, which can further reduce the amount of sunlight reaching solar panels and hinder their performance.

Wind energy production relies on consistent and sufficient wind resources, and prolonged droughts can disrupt wind patterns and decrease wind energy potential in affected regions.

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Junaid Shah

Junaid holds a Master of Engineering degree in Construction & Management. Being a civil engineering postgraduate and using his technical prowess, he has channeled his passion for writing in the environmental niche.