Whatever a changing climate will throw at Europe, the continent’s electricity grid will likely weather it.
Whatever a changing climate will throw at Europe, the continent’s electricity grid will likely weather it. The power will stay on, enabling locals to deal with heatwaves and sudden chills alike.
So says a team of researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark who developed models that predict wind turbine and solar panel outputs for all European countries until 2100 under common global warming scenarios.
They based their assessment on five metrics: 1) capacities for dispatchable electricity, 2) benefits of electrical transmission, 3) benefits of electrical storage, 4) variability of electricity production and 5) variability in consumption levels. Their aim was to measure the climate resilience of an electrical grid that relies heavily on renewables.
The researchers found that even in the face of extreme weather events predicted for the decades ahead owing to climate change, Europe’s current electricity systems are well suited to withstand these events. In fact, they note, as the continent’s climate warms local demand for electrified heating and cooling will diminish somewhat. That is because warmer winters will mean less need for heating.
“Extreme weather might require changes to the renewable generators and other parts of the system,” explains Smail Kozarcanin, a PhD fellow at the university’s Department of Engineering who was first author of the study published in the journal Joule. “For example, future wind turbines may require new types of storm protection and solar panels could need protection against super hailstorms. But our study shows that large-scale infrastructure choices, such as back-up power plant capacity, are relatively unaffected by the level of climate change.”
However, further weather-proofing the continent’s electrical system might still be a prudent step. Current transmission capacities are well developed within most nations, the experts say, but the interconnected electrical system linking 24 countries in the heart of Europe will need to be tweaked to ensure more effective renewable energy transmissions between nations.
“The main challenge for future grids will most likely be political and societal will to make the investments and proper planning for a grid topology that provides most of the potential benefit from smoothing renewable energy production between countries,” Kozarcanin says.