Climate change and the future European electricity supply

Climate change and the

future European electricity supply

How will climate change affect our electricity supply? What mix of solar and wind power is best suited for future conditions? And does it matter how much CO2 we emit today and in years to come? The picture shows Gorm Bruun Andresen and Smail Kozarcanin. Photo: Lars Kruse.

It is no easy task for researchers to predict the European energy situation up to 2100. They have to feed enormous amounts of climate and consumption data into the computer. Two huge servers have to crunch through no less than 60,000,000 megabytes each time a simulation is run. Photo: Lars Kruse.

Temperatures are increasing, but it seems that our electrical power supply will be able to cope with the challenges posed by new weather phenomena for many years to come. Comprehensive forecasts have mapped the impact of climate change on European production and consumption of electricity up until 2100.

The climate is changing everywhere on Earth as a result of anthropogenic global warming. The weather is becoming more extreme, with more droughts, storms and rainfall.

Most scientists agree that this will have serious biological, geographical and social consequences in the near future. Therefore, it is obvious to assume that the extreme weather will also affect how we organise our future electricity system in Europe, which will predominantly be based on solar and wind power. However, this is not the case.

“We’ve examined how global warming will affect wind and solar energy in all European countries. What we see is a sustainable and robust power system for the future, which as a whole will only slightly be affected by climate change,” says Smail Kozarcanin, a PhD student.

A robust mix of energy sources
Researchers have completed the most comprehensive analysis of climate data so far, and with a high level of certainty, they can demonstrate that global warming will only have a very limited impact on Europe’s future mix of energy sources for electricity supply.

“This is a good thing, because it means we can continue to use wind and solar energy in the hope of preventing climate change. And if climate change occurs anyway, we won’t be facing any dire problems,” says Associate Professor Gorm Bruun Andresen.

The researchers have used forecasts and projections of weather changes in Europe up to 2100 in their analyses.

The scientific results provide valuable knowledge for decision-makers at both government and intergovernmental levels when they have to prioritise investments in tomorrow’s energy systems.

A hot and cloudy future for Europe
Even though climate change will only have a marginal impact on the way we organise our electricity system in the future, according to the researchers, climate change will lead to significant changes in sun and wind conditions.

However, these changes will primarily be intermittent and local and they will not affect electricity supply and demand in Europe as a whole.

The researchers have also ascertained that increases in temperature will influence electricity consumption and solar- energy production to some extent. However, it is difficult here too to identify any major consequences for our electricity system. The warmer weather will simultaneously result in lower electricity consumption for heating and more cloud cover with a resultant reduction in solar radiation.

“We won’t get more solar energy because temperatures rise. This is because warming will result in more cloudy weather and this will reduce the effectiveness of solar panels. On the other hand, a warmer climate will affect our electricity consumption, because we’ll need more cooling. But this increase in demand will actually be neutralised by less need for heating in the European system as a whole,” says Smail Kozarcanin.

He stresses that the forecasts, in principle, could have shown a completely different future in which, to safeguard our energy system, we would need to pay much more attention to extreme weather events such as repeated heatwaves or long-term storms.

Mathematical model predicts supply and demand across countries
The researchers base their analyses on three different scenarios for the future climate behaviour of the European population. Each scenario takes into account one specific political regulation of emissions of greenhouse gases.

These scenarios are coupled to weather data in a mathematical model that simulates the European electricity grid. All countries are connected in the transmission grid, and each country is assigned a time series for wind and solar production as well as electricity consumption. This makes it possible to study trends in electricity supply and demand at intervals of only three hours.

“We’re operating with huge volumes of data and some extremely advanced mathematical calculations that, in principle, allow us to predict developments in European electricity consumption. This is crucial in planning a future sustainable energy supply for Europe,” says Smail Kozarcanin.

In the years to come, researchers will expand their modelling of the European energy system to include heating, cooling, industry and transport.