Technical Support Systems
1. Interim report: Analysis of current situation
Technical support systems that ensure the functioning of vital services, have been built to last for centuries, and the climate conditions of our geographical region have been taken into account. Technical support systems operate on a daily basis, both seasonally and daily, as well as when the weather conditions are largely fluctuating. The infrastructure is trustworthy and consumers are provided with energy without failure when it is 35 degrees, -40 degrees, or even during drought and heavy rain. Also, the infrastructure functions properly during no wind or up to the highest wind speed recorded in Estonia, which has been 45 m/s. Only in the case of extreme weather events (precipitation over 30 mm per hour or storm winds over 25 m/s) or in the co-occurrence of several negative weather conditions, some infrastructure related services have been disrupted for a shorter or longer period of time. Ports are mostly affected by the storms, the formation of the sea ice and by the rise of sea water. The roads, bridges, water supply and sanitation are mostly affected by rainfall and floods. The most affected by the climatic factors is the electricity grid, which gets damaged by storms, particularly due to the trees falling on overhead lines during heavy winds. Communication and gas network is affected by climatic factors more indirectly, as the network performance depends on the availability of power supply. As the technical support systems are prone to climatic factors, the utility operators are relatively well-adapted to extreme climatic conditions, and thus climate adaptation measures are to be implemented to some extent already today.
2. Interim report: Climate change impact assessment (including analysis of possible risks and vulnerability)
Technical support systems (transportation-, water- and canalisation, as well as electricity-, gas- and electronic communications network) have already been built rather resistant towards all kind of weather conditions, so that even the extreme weather events wont interfere the operations of the infrastructure that much.
It is predicted that the annual average changes in the climate parameters do not have a significant impact on the technical support systems. However, it may be that the extreme weather conditions such as storms, heat waves and torrential rains become more frequent and can thus cause situations that disrupt the operations of the infrastructure. In transport infrastructure, mainly changes in the need of maintenance and upkeep can be foreseen, which in one part will increase, but on the other hand would decrease. Therefore, it is difficult to broadcast what will be more decisive, whether that is cost savings due to climate change or the maintenance costs of transport infrastructure. So for example, in the future the need to clean up transport infrastructure from snow will decrease, while the need for de-icing will increase.
Also, the effects of extreme weather conditions on infrastructure are primarily related to the maintenance and therefore do not harm the infrastructure that much. For example, it is necessary to clean up the litter from roads, ports and airports caused by storms and flooding. However, some of the circumstances caused by climate may still damage the transport infrastructure. For example, the softening of the road surface and deformation of the railways caused by the heat waves, or collapse of the bridges and roads caused by floods. Also, the positive effects of climate change on the water and canalization infrastructure are to be lessened by the negative effects. For example, due to the reduction of large spring waters, the load on storm water collection systems and wastewater treatment plants will decrease, and thus the costs will be lower. However, a significant increase in rainfall will occur, particularly in the form of rain during the winter, which will burden the costs made for storm water collection system and wastewater treatment. Also the level of the upper aquifer will increase, which brings more water to the wells, however the decrease of spring waters and the large water consumption during the drought periods can eliminate that positive effect. The power grid is mainly affected by the extreme weather conditions, which particularly damages the overhead wires. Land – and air cables are more weatherproof and thus not that much affected by the climate change. Rather, it is envisaged that maintaining the land under the overhead cables can become more complicated during warmer winters. Due to the increase of more icy days in the future, the electricity network in the air will most probably face more frequent ice overlapping, which can damage the power grid and cause malfunctions.
Electronic communication network and gas network are indirectly influenced by the climatic factors because the network performance is dependent on the availability of electricity. Thus, the potential threat to these networks can only be caused by the extreme weather conditions which can cause blackouts. After the year of 2030, the electricity grid has significantly been made more weather proof and thus the storm caused power cuts will be less unlikely to occur.