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Mixed weather won’t hinder Europe’s renewable energy aspirations

In the last decade, both wind and solar energy have experienced a boom in popularity across Europe. These are both green alternatives to carbon-based energy, and have quadrupled in use between 2007 and 2016.

Despite their popularity, these new forms of energy production do have their downsides. Both wind and solar are at the mercy of fluctuating weather patterns, which has been a cause for concern due to Europe’s proclivity for long periods of low winds or overcast skies.

A new study from researchers in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland has found that long-term weather patterns could affect wind and solar renewable energy production in Europe. However, the findings suggest that the European power system will still be able to generate at least 35 percent of its electricity using just these two renewables alone, without any significant impacts on prices or system stability.

Published in the journal Joule, the study uses 30 years of meteorological data to assess and model the impact of renewable energy on the electricity sector through the year 2030. The researchers used decades of historic weather data to model the variability in wind and solar energy, as well as its effect on markets. While many previous studies have only focused on a single year or on one small country or region of Europe, this study analyzes the electricity system operation across European using wind and solar data spanning a 30-year period from 1985 to 2014.

Through analysis of long-term trends, the research team modeled how Europe would fare under five unique renewable energy scenarios with varying sustainability ambitions 12 years into the future. This breadth and depth of data made a major difference in the understanding of trends in CO2 emissions, system costs, and system operation.

“When planning future power systems with higher levels of wind and solar generation, one year of weather data analysis is not sufficient,” says says Seán Collins, a researcher at MaREI, the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland at the Environmental Research Institute in University College Cork. “We find that single-year studies could yield results that deviate by as much as 9% from the long-term average at a European level and even more at a country level. When there are legally binding targets on carbon emissions and the share of renewable energy, or promises to avoid sharp price hikes, this makes all the difference.”

While their models showed that CO2 emissions and total energy generation costs fluctuate greatly in future scenarios, they also determined that Europe is able to handle this variability quite well due to its close integration. The researchers believe their models and data could be used to depict a number of future scenarios that would help policy makers understand the reliability and impact of renewable energy. They have made their models and data openly available, in hopes of advancing this search for data-driven knowledge.

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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