Europe can Thrive on Renewable Energy Despite Unpredictable Weather
Researchers in Ireland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have shown
how long-term weather patterns affect wind and solar renewable energy
technologies across Europe. Using 30 years of meteorological data, the scientists have examined and further modelled the impact of renewable energy on the electricity sector out to the year 2030. The work suggests that despite the unpredictable nature of wind and solar energy, the European power system can comfortably generate at least 35% of its electricity using these renewables alone without major impacts on prices or system stability. The paper appeared on July 26, 2018, in the journal Joule.
Wind and solar energy have exploded in popularity across Europe in the last decade as green alternatives to traditional carbon-based energy, quadrupling in use between 2007 and 2016. However, these technologies are not without their drawbacks—both are susceptible to fluctuating weather patterns, raising concerns about Europe’s ability to endure long spells with low winds or overcast skies. Researchers have used decades
of historic weather data to model this variability in wind and solar energy and its effect on markets, but many studies only analyse data from one given year or focus solely on one country or a small region. The researchers challenge both the temporal and spatial limitations of previous studies by analysing electricity system operation across Europe— including power transmission between countries and technical operational constraints—using wind and solar data spanning the 30-year period from 1985 to 2014. By uncovering trends from this longstanding data trove across a vast,
interconnected region, the team was able to model how Europe would fare under five different renewable energy scenarios with varying sustainability ambitions 12 years into the future. It turns out that the breadth and depth of their data pool made all the difference when it came to understanding trends in CO2 emissions, system costs, and system operation—all of which are essential to the effective development of energy policy.