European wind energy generation potential

The UK and other European countries could become much windier if global temperatures reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, which could affect European wind energy generation, according to a new study.

The anticipated temperature rise in the coming years has implications for European wind energy generation among other things. The results of the new study suggest that wind could be a more important source of energy generation than previously thought, with stronger winds across the UK.

Researchers conclude that there could be a 10% increase in UK onshore wind energy generation, which would be a sufficient amount of energy to power the equivalent of an extra 700,000 homes every year based on current installed capacity. The results are relevant for decisions about future investment in onshore wind farms.

To evaluate potential changes in European wind power generation in a 1.5°C warmer world, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the University of Oxford and the University of Bristol, UK, have combined data from 282 onshore wind turbines collected over 11 years with climate model data from the HAPPI project.

However this study did not consider offshore wind energy generation potential.

Across northern Europe, the results suggest that large areas could become more viable for wind power in the future, these include:

Yet the biggest increases could be seen in the UK – along with marked seasonal shifts in wind.

Lead author, climate modeller Dr Scott Hosking at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “In future, nine months of the year could see UK wind turbines generating electricity at levels currently only seen in winter. Future summers could see the largest increase in wind generation. Therefore, wind could provide a greater proportion of the UK’s energy mix than has been previously assumed.”

Wind power is central to a low carbon economy. In Europe, wind energy currently accounts for 18% of total generating capacity and the European Commission’s 2030 energy strategy set a renewables target of at least 27%.

However, wind is also a highly variable energy source. While weather forecasts can help even out short-term differences in supply and demand, governments and industry need more information on longer-term changes in wind.

Signatories of the Paris Agreement have committed to keep global average temperatures to well below 2˚C increase from pre-industrial times, with an ambition to limit the increase to 1.5˚C.

The study on European wind generation within a 1.5°C warmer world has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters and was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.