A new study has concluded that the United Kingdom and large swathes of northern Europe could become windier if global temperature levels rise to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels, resulting in far-reaching implications for wind energy generation.
The new study, European wind generation within a 1.5˚C warmer world, was authored by researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, the University of Oxford, and the University of Bristol, and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The researchers used global climate modulations from the ‘Half a degree Additional warming, Prognosis and Projected Impacts’ (HAPPI) project to determine how wind conditions would change over Europe, and in particular how wind power generation across Europe would change in a world where global warming had pushed the temperature up by 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels.
The researchers combined their HAAPI data with 282 onshore wind turbines collected over 11 years, and found that a northward shift in the Atlantic jet stream would lead to a significant increase in surface winds over the UK and northern Europe, but be accompanied by a parallel reduction over Southern Europe. For the UK, the British Antarctic Survey team concluded that there could be a 10% increase in UK onshore wind energy generation — the equivalent of powering an extra 700,000 homes each year based on current installed onshore wind capacity.
Across the North Sea into northern Europe, the researchers’ results pointed to an increase in wind over large areas of Germany, Poland, and Lithuania, making these locations more viable for onshore wind development.
“In future, nine months of the year could see UK wind turbines generating electricity at levels currently only seen in winter,” said lead author and climate modeller Dr Scott Hosking at the British Antarctic Survey. “Future summers could see the largest increase in wind generation. Therefore, wind could provide a greater proportion of the UK’s energy mix than has been previously assumed.”
Interestingly, there will also be seasonal variations in the changes, according to the researchers. For example, in the UK, wind energy production during spring and autumn in a 1.5˚C world would result in wind energy becoming as productive as it is currently during the peak of winter, while summer winds will increase to represent levels currently seen in spring and autumn.
The northern shift of wind patterns will obviously benefit the UK and northern Europe, but what about southern Europe? According to Dr Scott Hosking, who spoke to me via email, “While the largest changes in wind energy generation potential will be found in northern Europe, results show negligible changes in other parts of Europe. Therefore, our study indicates that European wind energy markets will not suffer from the shift in wind patterns.”
Wind energy is already a significant contributor to the European energy sector, providing 18% of total generating capacity and set to make up a large share of the 27% renewable energy target set by the European Commission by 2030. In 2017 the European wind energy industry installed a record 15.7 gigawatts (GW) bringing the region’s cumulative capacity up to 169 GW.
“2017 was a strong year for wind energy with a high number of new installations and wind accounting for 12% of Europe’s electricity,” explained WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson, in February. “It’s further evidence that wind is mainstream and delivers bang for your buck. It’s cheap, increasingly stable, and industrial consumers are now turning to it as an energy source of choice. Governments have nothing to fear from being ambitious on wind energy and renewables more broadly.”
But the future of wind in Europe is, at the moment, a little messy, and Dickson added that the lack of “clarity from many Governments on their ambitions for renewables post-2020” needs to change, quickly, so as to provide the necessary confidence for developers. On top of this, according to the British Antarctic Survey, long-term changes in wind conditions and patterns are necessary to provide governments and industry with the information they need to proceed.
Dr Scott Hosking also told me that their research could be replicated for other governments around the world. “While we only considered Europe in our study,” he told me, “the same dataset and methodology could be used for other parts of the world to help governments make decisions on building new wind generation capacity.”