Molly Hellmuth is the Climate Resiliency Senior Advisor for USAID’s Integrated Resource and Resilience Planning projects in Ghana and Tanzania. She is an international expert in water resources, climate risk management and resilient development. She has over 20 years of international experience and has developed climate risk management strategies, tools, models and guidelines for various clients, including for USAID, the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the ASEAN Centre for Energy, the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Western Electric Coordinating Council (WECC), and the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy (DOD, DOE), amongst others. She has provided guidance on building climate resilience in the power sector for the U.S. MCC, and WECC, and has developed specific guidance on climate risk and resilience of hydropower plants for USAID and DOE. She holds a PhD and M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado-Boulder, and a B.S. in Environmental Studies, and a B.A. in French.
Assessing Climate Risks in the Energy Sector
The implementation of climate resilient low-emission development (LED) strategies is essential for ensuring the integrity and performance of LED programs and projects in the face of evolving climate impacts. However, most LED planners do not yet routinely consider the potential impacts of climate change, such as risks associated with extreme weather events or climate trends. Fortunately, in the past several years, a variety of tools have been developed by development partners (e.g., USAID, World Bank, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank) that planners can now use to determine whether and to what extent climate change may impact their investments.
Climate change risk screening tools provide planners with an understanding of current and future climate risks to existing and planned program investments in energy infrastructure and services. Climate risk screening typically integrates the concepts of:
- Exposure—which hazards could affect the energy project components and to what extent;
- Sensitivity—how the different project components would be impacted by different hazards; and
- Adaptive capacity—how other factors, such as the broader development context, would moderate or exacerbate potential impacts.
A new paper from the Resources to Advance LEDS Implementation (RALI) Series, called Climate Risk Screening Tools for Low-Emission Energy Development, highlights climate change risk screening tools available to help LED planners, project investors and developers assess the potential risks to new or existing energy programs. The tools capture a spectrum of applications that can be adapted to suit the capacity and needs of energy planners. These tools can help users identify risks to physical infrastructure, such as weather or fire damage to transmission lines, or to resource inputs required for electricity production, like impacts to biofuel production. A case example showing the use one of these tools for a hydropower activity in Vietnam is included in the paper.
Energy programs are often highly capitalized, long-term investments, meaning they will experience shifting climate conditions throughout their service life. Climate impacts can undermine LED objectives if resiliency is not considered, particularly if electricity grids must turn to carbon-intensive energy sources such as coal-fired plants when renewable energy becomes constrained. Therefore, understanding and addressing these diverse climate risks to energy programs is an essential component to realizing and safeguarding LED objectives.
The climate change risk screening tools presented in the paper provide relatively easy assessments of the level of climate risk faced by programs. This initial climate change risk assessment is an important first step in the program planning process to ensure that development practitioners make wise decisions efficiently and that LED investments are ready to withstand the tests of climate change.
Joanne Potter has more than 15 years of experience in climate change, adaptation, mitigation, and sustainability. She manages USAID’s Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services program. She has supported development of USAID's first federal adaptation plan under Council on Environmental Quality guidelines and the World Bank's sectoral guidance for staff to screen road projects in developing countries for climate risk. Ms. Potter has also worked with the DOD Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program to identify policy considerations regarding climate change risks on coastal military installations. Ms. Potter has a master's degree in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.