Blowing past climate goals could turn wind turbines

Source: Kelsey Brugger, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, May 18, 2018

Climate change could be a boon for wind farms.

If global temperatures rise 1.5 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels, vast swaths of northern Europe could become windier and, therefore, a greater source for wind power, a new study found. The findings come three years after world leaders finalized the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep temperatures well below 2 C above preindustrial levels.

Research by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) published yesterday suggests European decisionmakers may want to consider wind power when planning for the future of renewable energy.

“[T]he potential for wind energy in Northern Europe may be greater than has been previously assumed,” they wrote. The “likely” temperature increase of 1.5 C presents an “opportunity for climate mitigation.”

Using four climate models, the research team found an increase in wind generation throughout much of Europe. It took into account disparities such as turbine height and losses during transmission. (It only looked at onshore wind farms.)

Researchers found wind power could be as fruitful in the spring and fall as it usually is during the coldest days of winter. And it could be as productive during summer as it is during the cooler spring and autumn seasons.

Specifically, the study found that the United Kingdom could see some of the strongest winds — a 4 percent increase capacity factor. But wind power there is more variable, particularly in the summer. Germany and Poland also showed considerable variability.

“The research team concludes there could be a 10 percent increase in UK onshore wind energy generation, which would be sufficient to power the equivalent of an extra 700,000 homes every year based on current installed capacity,” a press release on the study stated.

In Europe, wind energy currently makes up 18 percent of the total power load, previous research shows. That percentage is expected to increase as the European Commission aims for renewable energy to make up a minimum of 27 percent by 2030.

The research was completed by BAS, a subset of the Natural Environment Research Council, University of Oxford and University of Bristol. They gathered data from 282 onshore wind turbines during an 11-year period.

The findings are specific to northern Europe. While there is a potential for wind production to decrease in southern Europe, those changes are predicted to be negligible, they said.