UCC-led research shows Europe could generate one-third of energy through renewable sources

The European power system can comfortably generate at least 35% of its electricity using renewable energy alone without major impacts on prices or system stability, researchers suggest.

Researchers in Ireland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have shown how long-term weather patterns affect wind and solar renewable energy technologies across Europe.

The team of researchers has used decades of weather data to model 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 small 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.

"When planning future power systems with higher levels of wind and solar generation, one year of weather data analysis is not sufficient,” says Seán Collins, a researcher at MaREI, the Marine and Renewable Energy Centre at 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.

By using multiple years to better understand the way other variables respond as wind and solar energy penetrate the market, Collins and his team found that CO2 emissions and total energy generation costs fluctuate wildly in future scenarios.

These can become up to five times more uncertain as weather-dependent resources gain greater traction in the market.

However, they also found that Europe could withstand this variability quite well thanks to its close integration—their models estimate Europe could use renewables for more than two-thirds of its electricity by 2030, with more than one-third coming from wind and solar.

Collins and his team believe their models and data could be used to depict a variety of possible future scenarios to help policymakers better understand the reliability and impact of renewable energy, including the impacts of a shift to 100% renewable electricity systems.

The researchers also hope that future work will demonstrate greater awareness of these long-term weather patterns in order to accurately depict a more renewable-energy-reliant world.

"For future policy developments to be robust and to capture the meteorological dependency of decarbonised energy systems, they should be based on open modelling analyses that utilise common long-term datasets," Mr Collins said.

Digital Desk


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